Daniel Arenson's first novel, the fantasy adventure FIREFLY ISLAND, just
went up for pre-order at Amazon.
Here's a brief synopsis of the book:
A cruel king, his flesh made of stone, tyrannizes the enchanted
Firefly Island. No sword or arrow can harm him. Aeolia, a servant
girl, can magically share feelings and senses... even pain. Only she,
by hurting herself, can hurt the mad monarch. But can she save the
island from his grasp?
The little girl huddled in the corner, weeping silently. Her hair covered her face, strewn with straw. Lice crawled in her kerchief. Her stockings were torn, and her toes peeked out of holes in her shoes, blue with cold. She was hugging a doll--a frayed, tattered thing that only her love made more than rags. Her teardrops soaked the toy as she rocked it, and her lips mumbled into its ears. “It'll be all right, Stuffings, don't be scared. I won't let the monster hurt you… ”
Joren, her older brother, sat watching her helplessly. He was only eleven years old, and already his heart ached. Like many boys his age, he had heard poems about wounded hearts and thought those only words. And yet now his heart actually hurt, a physical pain in his chest, as if all his tears had gathered there and lay swollen, pulsing. Hesitantly he reached forward and touched his sister's hair.
“Aeolia,” he said.
She drew away, huddling deeper into the corner, under the slanting roofbeams. She began to tremble, which made the straw on the floor crackle. The walls also shivered, jostled by the wind. The roof also shed tears, leaking raindrops through its thatch. The entire attic was weeping, Joren thought. All but him. He could not weep, though he wanted to, also.
“Aeoly,” he tried again, softer this time, using her favorite diminutive. “I brought you something. A gift.”
She said nothing, but her mumbling stopped. It was nighttime, and only a small lantern lit the attic. Shadows cloaked the girl. Joren could see only the whites of her eyes, glistening in the lamplight, watching him, peeking from her sodden hair.
“Here,” he said, handing her a cloth bundle. He held it extended for a long time, while she only watched him. Then, finally, the straw crackled closer, and the girl's hand protruded from the shadows. She snatched the bundle and retreated back into the corner. Joren could see her moving, unfolding the cloth. The tangy, earthy smell of goat cheese filled the attic, mingling with the smells of mold and wet wood.
“I got it from Old Monny, down at Chalk Corner,” Joren said, trying to hide that aching heart. “So you and Stuffings will have something to eat on the way.”
Still she did not answer. The only sounds were the dripping raindrops, the rattling walls, and the crackling straw. Finally, when Joren was about to speak again, came a shaky whisper from the shadows.
“But I can't go now. It's raining.”
That ache again, stronger. Gingerly, Joren crept into the corner, under the rafters and onto the straw pile. He knelt beside his sister. She cowered like a wounded animal, hugging her doll, shivering. Joren plucked the straw from her hair and parted the almond-brown strands, revealing her round, white face. Tears blurred her honey eyes and spiked her lashes. Her lips quivered. So little, Joren thought. She was so little. Better one child with food than two without, their father had said, but how could something so little possibly understand?
“Daddy says you must,” he said.
“Stuffings is scared. She doesn't want the monster to take us.” Tears rolled down her cheeks and fell into her lap. Joren felt her shivering beneath his palm.
“Then you must be brave,” he said. “Let Stuffings see how brave you can be.”
“She can't see, Joren, remember? You never brought me buttons for her eyes.”
He smiled sadly. He had been saving copperdrops for buttons, but bought the cheese instead. Perhaps that had been wrong. The ache returned, sharp and twisting, erasing his smile. If it were only her being sold, he thought, only goodbye. But it was more. Joren would make her lose more than just freedom. He touched her cheek. Her tears wet his hand.
“Don't cry, Aeoly,” he whispered. “You're six years old. You're a big girl now.” He knew how she loved to hear that.
“Really?” she asked, raising her red-rimmed eyes with hope.
Joren nodded with all the solemnity of his older years. “You must be like King Sinther now--strong as stone.”
A soft smile touched her lips. She loved to hear stories of the stone king, who felt no pain. “Strong as stone,” she mumbled.
Joren forced himself to smile back. He had never done anything more difficult. “You're a big girl, and I want you to make a big girl's promise. Can you do that, Aeoly? Can you make me a promise?”
She gave a small shrug, with only one shoulder, like she always did. A “rug”, he would call it, which always made her laugh. He wondered if he would ever see her do it again.
“What promise?” Her voice was small, trying not to tremble.
Joren took her hand, struggling to keep his face from showing his pain. But when he opened his mouth to speak, it was suddenly all too much. The words caught in his throat. He had to look away for fear he'd cry. How could he do this? To ask her to give up her talent, the only power she might have where she went …
But if anyone ever knew …
Joren managed to recompose his face. He held her little hand tight.
“Promise to keep your magic secret, Aeoly. Promise never to link again.”
Her voice was confused. “But I like linking.”
Her words tweaked Joren's heart, so hard he winced. If King Sinther ever discovered her magic, ever discovered that Aeolia, by linking, could hurt him past his impenetrable skin …
Sinther, his heart stony like his skin, would do anything to kill the one who could defeat him.
Joren shut his eyes. Tears swam behind his lids. His voice shook. “I know, Aeoly, I know, Dewdrop, I know … But some people don't, Aeoly, some people would hurt you if they knew. You must keep it secret. Never link to anyone again. Never ever. Promise me, Aeoly.”
She opened her mouth, but before words could leave her throat, a tinkling sound came from downstairs. Coins bouncing against a table. Aeolia huddled deeper into the corner, hugging her doll tight. Her fingers dug into the frayed cloth so hard her knuckles whitened. She was shivering again.
“I'll promise,” she whispered. “But only if you promise something, too.”
The stairs began to creak with a slow, heavy pace, heavier than a man's. The walls moaned and bent, and thatch fell from the roofbeams. The lantern swung on its chain, swirling shadows like bad dreams. Joren found himself clutching straw in his fists.
“What is it? What do you want me to promise?”
Aeolia flung herself forward, out of the shadows, and wrapped her arms around him. Her grip was so tight he could hardly breathe.
“That you'll save me, Joren!” she sobbed. “Promise you'll save me from the monster.”
From the stairway came ragged wheezing, loud as bellows and coarse as sand. A stench like sweat and rot and bad breath filtered into the loft, so sickening it churned Joren's stomach. Aeolia's fingers dug into his back. She panted into his shirt.
“How can I save you?” he whispered. “I'm only a child.”
“I'll wait till you're bigger!”
The footsteps paused outside. Joren could see, in the crack beneath the door, the shadows of huge feet. Keys rattled in the lock, struggling against the rust. An impossibly deep voice grumbled foreign, guttural curses.
“Aeoly, I won't come of age for ten years.”
“I'll wait for you! Promise me, Joren, promise you'll do it!”
Lightning flashed, bright and blinding. Thunder shook the floor. The wind slammed open the window, and the lantern guttered out. Darkness and storm filled the room. The straw flurried. The thatch flew from the roofbeams. Rain and hail buffeted Joren's face, sharp and stinging. Wind flapped his shirt, bit his eyes, roared in his ears. He could hardly see or hear. He tried to rise, to go close the shutters, but Aeolia's hand held him fast. He turned his head and glimpsed her in the flickering lightning. Her skin was flushed, her hair billowed, her doll had been blown from her grasp. As the storm raged around her she sat unmoving, holding his arm, staring at him steadily even as the door creaked open.
Joren nodded, sorrow swelling in his throat.
“I promise, Aeoly. I promise.”
You can learn more about the book (read a sample, see artwork,
discover the world of Firefly Island, etc.) at his website,
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