The Greening (Book One in The Silvana Chronicles), by Belinda Mellor

The Greening (Book One in The Silvana Chronicles), by Belinda Mellor (Fiction)

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Once heard, the song of a Silvana can never be forgotten.

Yet for every man who wins such a wife
there are three destroyed in the attempt.

Fabiom of Deepvale dreams of winning the love of a Silvana, one of the mysterious and powerful tree spirits who haunt the deepest groves of the wildwood. But when he is suddenly thrown into the political arena and expected to keep the family silk business running, everything changes. Fabiom fears he will have to put aside his dream, for such a quest is perilous and Deepvale cannot afford to lose its young lord.
However, the nub of amber he finds beneath the huge ash tree could change his mind: if one of the Silvanii is upset enough to weep her precious golden tears at the thought of losing him, how can he disappoint her? 
What Fabiom does not know is that the fiercely guarded secrets of silk-making have been sold abroad, putting more than the economic stability of his holding at risk; it was the Silvanii who first gifted the human inhabitants of Morene with those secrets, and they do not take kindly to betrayal.

From: The Greening (Book One in The Silvana Chronicles), by Belinda Mellor

Prologue

Branches arced over Fabiom’s head and the limbs of each tree grasped those of the next, to form a canopy that seemingly went on forever. Wildwood: unbroken, unending. Here he was safe.

The last light of day gilded the leaves of autumns past, so that he trod a golden path between the burnished trunks of ash and elm supporting the living canopy above him.

He was not going home.

Evening chorus rang out from amid the branches. The daytime birds of the wildwood prepared for night, calling their final farewell to the sun and a warning to their neighbours that all territorial disputes would resume at first light.

The little boy tried to impersonate the chaffinch, as his Uncle Tarison had taught him, “chip chip chip, cherry-erry-erry.” And the stream running alongside the path chuckled and gurgled, as if in amusement at his efforts.

The stream could laugh at him, he did not object to that.

As he knelt to take a drink, a shrill voice shattered the tranquillity of the woods, silencing the birds.

“I see him! I see him!”

Fabiom took one, startled look, scrambled to his feet and ran as fast as he could, regardless of the briars that tore at his clothes and skin, or the nettles that burnt as he hurried past. He knew where he was going, where he would really be safe.

“Nimo, you idiot! You scared him. We could have grabbed him while he was on his knees. Now we’ll never find him.”

“I don’t know what you’re fussing about, Khime. He’ll go home soon enough. It’s getting dark. He’s not going to want to stay here much longer.” Nimo, fourteen and the older of the two brothers by almost two years, looked around and shuddered. “I certainly don’t.”

“Oh, right. So we just go back and tell Lord Tawr that his four-year-old son is lost somewhere in the middle of the wildwood, but we’re sure he’ll come home soon?”

For a moment Nimo poked distractedly at a hole in a tree with a stick, then he grinned. “Not quite. We’ll tell him that Fabiom said he wanted to show us something deep in the woods and then he ran off and left us to find our own way back – that’s why we’re so late. We’ll be all surprised that he isn’t already home, laughing at us.”

Khime snorted. “We might get away with it, if he doesn’t decide to tell Tawr or Vida what really happened. He’s such a pathetic little mouse.”

“Yes he is, isn’t he?” Nimo guffawed. “It was so funny when you put him in that basket and put the lid on it and he couldn’t work out how to open it again.” He threw his stick at a chaffinch above his head, and missed. “Maybe we shouldn’t have pretended to be wild pigs coming to get him though.”

He looked at his brother for a long moment until the two of them doubled up with laughter.

“Oh, yes, we should!” Khime spluttered. “Whatever Herbis does to us for it, it’ll have been worth it just to have seen the look on Fabiom’s face.”

Fabiom stopped running. Short, useless breaths burnt his throat, while his chest longed for air. Blood oozed from his knee where he had tripped over a root and fallen. He wanted his mother, but he would not go home, not while Lord Herbis and his two horrid brothers were still there.

Fabiom had not wanted to play with them. But when Herbis asked Fabiom’s parents to show him around Deepvale’s silk mills, the two boys offered to look after him while the adults went off. They promised to take good care of him.

“Watch that he stays in the gardens,” Tawr had warned them. “He’s a terror for going off into the woods on his own.”

At four, Fabiom was far too young to recognise the look of malicious glee that passed between the brothers at that moment.

“Ooh, Fabiom. You mustn’t go into the woods. A Silvana might see you. Out she’d come from her tree and swallow you up!” Nimo tried, as soon as the adults were out of hearing.

Fabiom laughed. “Silvanii don’t swallow people,” he told the older boy disdainfully.

“Her roots and branches would wind around you though, and you’d be trapped, stuck fast in her tree, deep in the woods, where no one could hear you cry for help,” Khime elaborated.

Fabiom giggled at that. “Don’t you know anything about the Silvanii?” he asked. “They won’t hurt you unless you hurt them. They’re nice. They sing and they dance.”

“And they take your mind and you go mad, mad, mad!” Khime looked at the little boy, who was still laughing. “D’you know where they dance, Fabiom? Bet you don’t. Bet you’d be too scared to go there even if you did.”

“No I wouldn’t.” Fabiom smiled innocently. He would not tell them that he knew exactly where the Silvanii danced. That was his secret; his and Tawr’s. Not even his mother knew he had persuaded that information from his father.

Earlier that summer, after days of pleading, Tawr had finally brought him to the dancing glade. Twice since then he had gone there on his own, despite strict instructions about staying in the gardens. It was easy to find, once you knew the way: all you had to do was follow the stream. So how had he got lost?

The unending canopy no longer looked so friendly. It really did seem as if the wildwood went on and on, that there was nothing else in the world besides. Fabiom sniffed, near to tears. Somewhere near here was a wide grassy glade, encircled by trees, with a stream running through. It did exist, just as his father’s hold-house existed and Deepvale and all the towns and villages and holdings beyond.

Standing there, lost in the evening gloom, surrounded by towering trees, he was beginning to wonder if that was true.

A tawny owl drifted past on silent wings. Fabiom smiled despite his predicament. He was not really afraid of the woods, even in the dark. There was nothing about the wildwood of Deepvale he did not love; except perhaps the nettles, he decided, as he rubbed his elbow with plantain leaves. The brambles he forgave, despite the damage they inflicted. Soon he would be able to enjoy their sweet berries; that was worth a few scratches.

Fabiom—”

The crushed leaves fell from his hand.

Fabiom—”

The voice was enticing, sweet and kind; leading him away from the path, over grassy hillocks and through dense bracken.

Fabiom—”

He followed without hesitation, until he came out into a small grove of well spaced ash trees. Between the trees, the gently undulating ground was sprinkled with violets and anemones growing in profusion.

Though he was uncertain whether he had really heard the voice calling his name, or just imagined it, Fabiom was in no doubt the giggling he heard now was real enough. His mother had told him stories of the merry and mischievous woodmaids, denizens of holly and hazel, whitethorn and rowan, and other small trees of the wildwood.

And they had led him here.

Awed, he stood staring at the ash trees towering above him. At least one of them had to be Silvanan. Why else would there be woodmaids here?

“I would have brought some flowers if I’d known,” he whispered.

Laughter like dry leaves in the breeze greeted his words. Fabiom paid the woodmaids no heed. He would be safe here, that was certain; and the roots of one of the huge trees formed a circle, like arms, where he could sleep. He was hungry and sore, but most of all he was tired. With a whispered word of thanks to the Silvana of his tree, he curled up in the woody hollow and fell asleep almost at once.

Dreams came in the night. He was in a dark, tight space, not even sure which way was up. There was no way out. His body jerked and he cried aloud. Suddenly he was out of the basket and running, but they were chasing him, catching up, trying to put the basket over his head again. He glanced over his shoulder as he fled. They had heads like wild pigs, with tusks and fierce red eyes, and through their piggy mouths, with squeals and grunts, they called his name. A branch lay across his path; too late he saw it and tripped. Triumphant squealing bore down upon him … And then silence.

He had not heard her sing to him but, from that moment, only soft and gentle sleep was his. And the song remained in his mind – for the rest of his life.

He awoke as dawn touched the grove. For a moment, he thought he was in his own bed, he was so warm and snug under a thick blanket – of moss and leaves. He sat up, gazing around in wonder. When he stood, he saw the grass was dew-damp and yet he felt perfectly dry. Laughing, he wrapped his arms as far around the trunk of the ash tree as he could reach.

“Thank you,” he said, planting a kiss on the rough, furrowed bark. “I’ve got to go now but I’ll come back, I promise.”

After that, he had no trouble finding the dancing glade; he simply followed the rippling laughter of the woodmaids. His father was already there.

Tawr wept as he scooped his son into his arms and hugged him against his chest. “I should be very cross with you,” Deepvale’s Lord Holder whispered fiercely.

“They frightened me.” Fabiom’s big blue eyes filled with tears. “Have they gone away yet?”

“I didn’t think anything out here could frighten you. But whatever it was is gone, I’m sure,” Tawr said reassuringly.

“Back to Windwood?”

Tawr let him down to the ground and knelt before him so that their faces were level. “Nimo and Khime. Is that who scared you, Fabiom?”

Fabiom nodded.

Tawr’s brow creased, his jaw tightened, then he brushed his hand over his son’s dark curls and grinned. “Don’t you worry about them. I think a day cleaning out silk worm trays should keep them from any more mischief, don’t you?”

“Smelly silk worms,” Fabiom chortled as his father stood and swung him up onto his shoulders.

And laughter, like leaves in the wind, echoed him.

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