The planet Rithonon circled a star near the edge of the Tharion Sea, as
it is named in Eratzira. Jake Connolly lived in the Thalanin village of
Brown Hill on the western edge of the mountains of Itelmir, which ran
eastward to the ocean far away. Brown Hill lay hard against the
mountains in a long valley filled with many other villages, all given to
mining. All these Thalanin villages were administrated by the Nanyan
city of hCathad, whose towers dwarfed the many ancient ruins scattered
throughout the valley. Long ago Rithonon had been an outpost for
watchmen who guarded the borders of an ancient star-kingdom.They had
patrolled Rithonon’s star and its neighbours and had safeguarded the
rich mines of Rithonon. Those men had now been gone for long ages, but
the mines remained.
Brown Hill lay below what had once been a tall fortress that had housed
a garrison of many men and starships. The citadel now lay in ruins, but
farther down the hill, a tall watchtower still stood. It was in this
tower that Jake Connolly lived with his many birds, for he was a
vèralamenasi. His parents before him had also been vèralamenasin, but
they had died many years before while on holiday, leaving Jake to care
for the birds alone.
Chief among the vèralamen Jake cared for was a falcon named Faluin,
offspring of the great Starlords of old. Jake alone had been able to
tame him, and he had served Jake and his family for many years. When
Jake’s parents died, it was Faluin who brought him the news, and from
those days Faluin became his friend and counsellor. Jake never hired out
Faluin but used him only to carry private messages and to keep an eye on
the lands all around.
Being the only vèralamenasi in the valley, Jake never wanted for
patrons. Even Thalanin came to enlist the service of the vèralamen,
though they always wrote their messages upon small scrolls. Other
Thalanin would hire Jake to translate Nanyan or to serve as interpreter
for meetings with Nanyanin officials. He made a good living and never
lacked for anything.
In his tower Jake lived mainly in two rooms—the kitchen on the ground
floor and his bedroom near the top. The rest of the rooms had been
sealed off except for a large chamber on the topmost floor where the
vèralamen roosted. Jake fed them when necessary, but the vèralamen
often hunted their own food. Automaton creatures were not uncommon in
the valley, though they were far outnumbered by animals of flesh and
blood. The fields surrounding Jake’s tower were wholly given to
farming and ranching, and it was not unusual for Jake to see cattle
grazing outside his window or to watch a farmer driving a cart down the
From the upper windows, Jake could see all the rooftops of Brown Hill,
for it was a small village. One main road ran through the centre of
town, and many shops and tradesmen were to be found there. Jake was
friendly with most of the villagers, and they seemed to like him well
Of all the places Jake frequented in the village, his favourite by far
was the Grey Griffin—an inn that lay on a side street off the main
road. It was sheltered enough to seem isolated, but it was always busy.
Miners would eat there before their work began and then again after
their long labour. Two old men were often seen playing draughts and
talking about the other patrons as if no one else could hear them. There
were other regulars besides—all good people and each a special kind of
But by far the person Jake found most intriguing was Samantha Brown, the
innkeeper’s daughter. She was a bit younger than Jake was, bright-eyed
and overflowing with cheerfulness. Jake had never seen her unhappy, and
she always greeted him with a shy smile. He had seen much of her in
recent days, for she seemed to enjoy his company, and she had at times
visited the tower on the hill just to say hello or to tell him some bit
of news from the inn.
One particular day Jake journeyed down to the inn for breakfast, as was
his custom. Though a number of the townsfolk were still asleep at that
hour, the brown-stone streets were far from silent or empty. Jake passed
several men driving their carts overflowing with produce towards the
market. Miners trudged in small groups here and there—some boarding
transports for the more distant mines, others following the road that
led to the Brown Tunnel Mine just south of the village. Constable Gibbs
was already up and about, and Robert Lofton, the town beggar, hid in the
shadows as the constable passed.
All over town early risers were raising banners and streamers from
buildings and lampposts. Women on tall stepladders hung lanterns from
ropes strung between the streetlamps. Tents and stalls of wood and cloth
appeared in many places, and in the town square, three men were building
an enormous wooden platform. The Brown Hill Autumn Festival was to be
held the following evening, and many of the townsfolk were busy with its
preparation. Jake usually skipped most of the festival, coming down only
briefly for a bit of food and a walk around to look at all the commotion
before returning home. It was not much fun going all alone, but this
year he planned on a change.
As he continued on through the town, Jake breathed deeply. The air was
clear and cool, and only a few clouds floated lazily over the town. The
air smelled of things baking in the shops along the street. Mrs
Arlington’s pastry shop stood near the centre of town, and every
morning the smell of her sweet rolls drifted in and out of streets and
lingered over the town until late in the afternoon. Jake’s stomach
made a noise, but he did not divert his course or his purpose, for there
was more than breakfast on his mind.
The Grey Griffin Inn stood two storeys tall around a stone courtyard,
making a wall on three sides. Its upper storey overhung the yard so
there was a walkway underneath. Its wooden pillars held up white plaster
walls, and red tiles covered the slanted rooftop. At the centre of the
courtyard, a stone fountain stood, dry and partially overgrown with
moss. Jake could not remember if the fountain had ever run at all. On
the far side of the courtyard, two wooden doors stood partially open,
and though the air outside was chill, wafts of warm air flowed
ceaselessly out into the courtyard.
Jake entered the doors and, passing through the cloakroom, found himself
standing in the common-room of the inn. The room was large and filled
with many tables and chairs, some partitioned by half-walls or by
differences in the height of the floor. A long bar with many stools lay
on one side of the room, and off in the corner a few cushioned chairs
sat ready to welcome weary guests.
At this time of morning, the common-room was not busy. Only a few
patrons sat scattered amongst a handful of tables throughout the room.
The inn was quiet and peaceful, and from the kitchen floated smells of
bacon, sausage, and fatback cooking, mingled with the permeating smells
of coffee and strong cider.
The two old men—who seemed always to be present at the inn—called
out to Jake from their usual table in the corner.
“Good morning, young Connolly,” the one man said. “Another day in
the aviary, eh?”
“Always.” Jake tried to sound polite.
“She’s in the back,” the other man said with a wink. “She was
out here looking for you a second ago, but you just missed her. She was
called into the kitchen—something about a pile of dishes. I guess
you’ll be lucky to see her at all.”
“She’ll come back,” the first man said. “If she knows he’s
here, she’ll come back.”
“Ah, but will she know he’s here?” the other said. “She could be
in there for an hour or more, and her mother won’t let her come out if
she sees there’s work to be done.”
“Bah!” said the first man. “You’re too old and shrivelled up to
remember the burning fire of a young heart. I say she’ll be here,
mother notwithstanding, and young Mr Connolly will wait here, I’ll
wager, till she comes out—even if it takes until he’s as old as we
Jake’s ears turned red, and the two old men howled with laughter. Jake
slipped away from them and took a seat at the bar near the kitchen. He
strained his neck to look over the kitchen door, but he could see no
sign of anyone, and no one came out to serve him.
Outside in the courtyard, voices grew loud, and a moment later a
half-dozen miners entered wearing dirty overalls and carrying their hats
in their hands. They were talking amongst themselves very loudly (Jake
always suspected that miners were almost deaf), and they sat at a table
not far from the kitchen. Jake could not help but overhear them as they
spoke to one another.
“But he was a queer-looking man,” one of the miners was saying.
“He weren’t like no Regulator I’d ever seen afore. New fellow he
must have been, but where he came from, he wouldn’t tell me. He just
asked to see the foreman, so I shows him the way. I tried to make talk
with him—‘How do you do today, sir?’ and all that—but he never
says a blessed word. He only keeps looking round him at everybody we go
by, like he was looking for something—or someone, but he wouldn’t
“Nanyan folk are a queer lot. They live so awful long that it don’t
do them no good! They get tired of living, I think, and they can’t
find nothing better to do than to poke their noses into other people’s
The others asked him many questions, but he did not know any more than
he had already said. Jake listened, not thinking very much of it. He
rarely understood miners, for he knew little of their work or
organization. He knew what Regulators were for sure; one visited him
promptly every monthto be sure his business was run legally, but what
this mining Regulator was up to, Jake could not guess.
At that moment the kitchen door swung open, and Samantha appeared, her
face bright and her eyes sparkling. She walked up to the bar, wiping her
hands on her apron.
“Good morning,” she said warmly.
The sight of her and the sound of her voice drove all else from Jake’s
mind. “It is indeed,” he said.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t here when you came in,” she said and then
added quickly, “to serve you, I mean. I’d left the dishes in the
sink from last night. I guess I’d forgot about them when you walked me
back home yesterday.”
“I hope I didn’t get you in trouble,” Jake said. “I didn’t
realize we had been talking so late.”
“Oh, it’s no trouble,” Samantha said. “Besides, I would much
rather be out walking with you than cooped up in this place all
evening.” She sighed. “I was born here, and I’ve lived here all my
life. I reckon I’ll probably die here too.”
Jake shook his head. “Never,” he said. “You’ll leave this town
someday. You’ll be up on Telethoram before you know it, and from
there, who knows? You might even make it to Earth.” He gave her a
Samantha smiled shyly. “That’s too much for me to imagine,” she
said. “I’ve dreamt of Earth—walking its green fields, breathing
its fragrant air, seeing all the stars in their primeval shapes. But I
can’t let myself hope for things so impossible. Telethoram is good
enough for me. Have you ever been up there?”
“Once,” Jake said, “but that was a long time ago.” The memory
suddenly stabbed him. “My parents, they…they took me there. They
wanted me to see it.” His voice died away, and he turned his head.
“Oh.” Samantha turned red and nervously wiped the counter with a
cloth. “I didn’t mean to…I mean, I didn’t think about…I mean,
your parents and all…”
Jake turned back to her and attempted a smile. “It’s all right,”
he said, “but I do miss them terribly.”
“I didn’t mean to bring it up,” Samantha said. “I can’t
imagine…Well, I…I’m just making it worse.” She turned away, and
by the shaking of her shoulders Jake could tell she was crying.
He reached out and grabbed her arm gently. “Please don’t worry about
it,” he said. “I don’t mind talking about them—at least not as
much as I used to—and you don’t need to feel bad about anything.
You’ve done nothing wrong.”
Samantha still faced away from him. “If you say so,” she said, her
voice barely above a whisper. Suddenly she straightened up. She took a
deep breath and turned back around, wiping her eyes with the cloth in
her hand. “Well,” she said weakly, “this is embarrassing. I
don’t usually cry in front of customers.”
“Then I’ll consider myself special,” Jake said with a grin. “So
special I just might get to take someone to the festival tomorrow.”
A twinkle came into Samantha’s eyes. “Maybe,” she said with a shy
smile. “Is she a special girl?”
“She’s dear to me, yes,” Jake said.
“Well then, why don’t you ask her?” Samantha put her elbows on the
bar, leaning over so that she stared straight into Jake’s eyes.
The look on her face caught Jake off guard, and his mind went blank. He
fumbled for a moment as he tried to speak. “Well, I…” he said.
“I…just might do that. Do you think she’d say yes?”
“Well what if—”
Samantha interrupted with a giggle. “Oh, just ask me already!”
“Very well, then.” Jake cleared his throat, and in a tone that
jested at chivalry, he said, “Would you please permit me to accompany
you to the festival?”
Samantha met the jest with a curtsy. “With pleasure, sir.” She
looked up, smiling broadly. The noise of the room seemed to fade away to
a great distance, and Jake felt a great feeling of contentment wash over
Samantha suddenly glanced over to a nearby clock and frowned. “It’s
getting late,” she said. “I must go, or I shall fall behind in my
“Well you’ve already delayed my breakfast,” Jake teased.
Samantha scowled at him but could not suppress a giggle. “The usual
then, sir?” she said with an exaggerated bow.
“Certainly, miss,” Jake said, “and don’t be all day about it.”
“No promises,” she said, and she stuck her tongue out at him before
disappearing into the kitchen.
The table of miners nearby erupted in taunts and snickers, and Jake
flashed them a fierce look—or as fierce as he could muster. He was
much too happy to be cross, and his most threatening face was surely far
Breakfast came—scrambled eggs, sausages, fried potatoes, beans, and
toast. Jake ate slowly as he watched Samantha go about her morning
routine serving the hungry crowds. Most were miners coming off work, and
soon the room was filled with noisy talk. Jake stayed until he could no
longer bear the noise and crowding. He paid for the meal, bade Samantha
a good morning, and left. Compared to the growing chaos inside, the
courtyard was peaceful and quiet.
As Jake walked up the lane towards the main road, he heard a voice
calling out his name. He turned and found to his dismay that Lawrence
Appleton, the town magistrate, was walking towards him. Appleton was
only a few years older than Jake—rather young for a magistrate, for he
had inherited the position from his late father. His eyes and hair were
dark, and the corner of his mouth seemed always upturned in a menacing
smirk. He wore a bright-red suit, as was the custom for magistrates in
“Mr Connolly,” Appleton said. “I’ve been looking for you, but
you weren’t at home.”
“Well, what’s the matter?”
“There’s a new Regulator in town,” Appleton said with an air both
of pride and contempt.
Jake rolled his eyes. “Yes, I’ve heard,” he said and kept walking.
“Something about the mines, I guess.”
“About the mines?” Appleton said with a chuckle. “You don’t
understand. He’s going all over town asking about you.”
“About me?” said Jake. “Whatever for?”
“He wouldn’t say,” Appleton replied. “He just wanted to know
where you lived and worked.”
“And what did you tell him?”
“Well, what could I tell him? I had to tell him the truth. I suspect
he may be up later to talk with you. I can’t imagine what you’ve
done to deserve such special attention.”
Jake smiled a fake smile. “I’m sure it’s nothing,” he said.
“It won’t be the first time a Regulator has darkened my door.”
“Then I’m sure you have nothing to worry about,” Appleton said
smugly. “Good day, Mr Connolly. I hope everything goes well for
Jake bade Appleton farewell and walked back through town towards his
home, muttering under his breath as he walked. Appleton had spoiled an
otherwise good mood.
Jake quickened his pace when he reached the bottom of the hill upon
which his tower stood. The sun was climbing in the sky, and it was time
for him to open up shop.
Jake had an old print-out machine that was wired into the relay system
that ran throughout the valley. Throughout the day the office of the
High Magistrate in hCathad would send requests for the delivery of legal
documents. For these dispatches, Jake would encode a key onto a metal
band that he would attach to the foot of a vèralam. This key would
identify the bird to the magistrate’s office when picking up the
document, and a further key (given by the magistrate) would identify the
bird to the recipient—usually another magistrate’s office on another
world. This system worked flawlessly, for vèralamen are difficult to
capture, and the keys prevented forgery.
This was the majority of Jake’s work.
Requests of a more personal nature would be brought to the tower in
person. Messages of this kind were most often reserved for special
occasions—births and weddings in far off places, the milestone
birthday of a great-great-grandparent, a letter to a lover far
away—anything that needed something more significant than a weak
transmission beamed between the stars.
Jake sometimes found himself feeling guilty in his labours, for there
was little for him to do except send the birds on their way. He took
care of them for his part, but the vèralamen ably cared for themselves,
finding food and shelter of their own accord. But he enjoyed his work,
and as he made a good living, he did not complain.
As Jake walked up the lane to his own front door, Faluin swooped down
from an unseen height and perched on the fence that lined the road. In a
single motion, he shook himself from head to foot, ruffling his brown
and white feathers. Then he turned and addressed Jake in Nanyan.
“Successful exploits, sir?” he asked. “Was she pleased with your
“She seemed to be,” Jake said, smiling. “Anything to report
“All is quiet,” Faluin said. “Faldan and I flew around the planet
this morning. All is at peace.”
“You didn’t happen to see a strange Nanyan man in Brown Hill, did
you?” Jake asked. “An Overseerperhaps?”
“I did not, sir,” Faluin said. “Shall I go looking for him now?”
“No, that’s not necessary.”
“Is it not important?”
“Very well,” Faluin said. “Shall we go up, then?”
Jake nodded and raised his arm, and Faluin perched upon it. Jake brought
him into the house and set him on a perch near the open window. The
first floor of the tower was mostly given to a garage whose outer door
faced the hill behind. Inside Jake kept a flyerthat had belonged to his
father. Jake used it occasionally, taking it out to be sure it was kept
in good working order. Faluin would often fly alongside and guide Jake
over the mountains and back home again.
The remainder of the first floor was taken up by a small kitchen and a
round table shoved in a corner with a few chairs. Opposite these stood
an iron stove and a sink with a pump that drew water from an ancient
well deep underground. Jake had asked the city leaders of hCathad to let
him connect to the waterline in Brown Hill, but his request was never
met with any sense of urgency. So he pumped water day after day, heating
it on the stove for bathing and cooking, but he seldom drank it,
preferring to go down to Brown Hill, where the water was cleaner.
From the window above the sink, Jake could look over the pasturelands
that spread out as far as he could see. Beyond the fields, almost at the
edge of sight, marched a line of trees, and behind them stood the
distant towers of hCathad that rose in spires of grey and blue. Now and
then Jake would observe a starship descending over the city to the far
side of the valley, where there were many moorings for starships. Jake
had visited the docks only once a long time ago, for his business rarely
brought him there.
Turning from the window, Jake crossed the kitchen to the stairway that
curved behind a stone wall up into the tower. Slowly he climbed the
narrow stair, taking a torchwith him so he could find his footing. On
the second storey, he passed a large wooden door on thick metal hinges.
Cobwebs and dust filled the cracks between the door and the stones in
which it was set. It had not been opened for many years, for the room
beyond had belonged to his parents. After they had died, he had not had
the heart to enter it, and he had never thought of moving into it
himself though it was an enormous room, as he remembered it. He
suspected that in the ancient days, it had belonged to whoever had
commanded the tower.
Floor after floor he climbed, passing many other rooms long shut up or
sealed. On the floor just below the uppermost, he stopped at a small
wooden door not quite tall enough for him to walk through standing
upright. He ducked inside, and as he entered, a few roaches scattered
away from the light. The room was dark, for though there was a window in
the far wall, it faced away from the rising sun. Beneath it lay a bed
covered in rumpled sheets and blankets, and it was here that he slept.
Besides the bed, the room also held a small table, an old trunk, and a
wardrobe with creaky hinges. Jake had always wanted to replace it, but
he could not think of how to remove it. It was much too large to fit
through the door, and he sometimes wondered how it had been brought
upstairs in the first place.
Jake took a black leather book from the table beside the bed and left
the room again. He continued up the stairs until on the topmost floor he
came to a landing that opened into a large room of plain stone. A few
pillars of stone and metal held up the ceiling, and at the far end of
the room stood a wooden door that opened upon a small storage space.
Four windows opened in the walls of the room, evenly spaced to match the
four directions of the compass. Upon the floor and along the walls were
many tree branches and stone columns where two dozen birds of all kinds
and colours sat—some sleeping, some preening, and some talking to one
A harrier sitting on a wooden perch near the stairs turned as Jake
entered. “Good morning, sir,” he said. “Did you sleep well?”
“Fairly,” Jake said. “Has Dinarin returned yet?”
“No, sir,” the harrier said. “But Thesanumon is far away indeed. I
don’t think even Faluin could have made the trip in so little time.”
At that moment Faluin swooped through the window and landed on a wooden
beam that had fallen and now lay at an angle near one of the windows.
“Where could I not have gone?” he asked.
“Your pardon,” the harrier said, bowing low. “I meant no
“Are you speaking of Dinarin’s journey to Thesanumon?”
“We are,” said the harrier.
“Then I concur with you,” said Faluin. “It is a long journey. We
must await him a while longer.”
“That’s not very good news,” Jake said. “The woman who sent the
message did not pay enough for him to be gone this long. I must remember
to raise prices in future.”
Suddenly one of the eagles let out a cry, and a murmur arose from the
other birds. Jake turned to the window and started, for there on the
window-ledge sat a large bird unlike any Jake had ever seen. At first
sight he appeared owl-like, but as Jake looked at him more closely, he
appeared like a large falcon, keen and fierce, with a look of malice
that unnerved Jake so that he backed away at once. Faluin jumped to a
stone pillar near the window, placing himself between Jake and the
“Hello,” Jake said as cordially as he could manage.
The bird gave no answer.
“My name is Jake Connolly.”
The bird remained silent and as still as a statue.
“Who is your master?” Jake said. “Do you have a message for
The bird paused a moment longer and then took in his beak a scrap of
paper that had been attached to his foot. Slowly Jake reached out his
hand to receive it. Faluin watched closely, ready to intervene if
something went amiss. The bird dropped his message into Jake’s palm,
and before Jake had even begun to unroll it, the bird turned and leapt
through the open window, soaring away at great speed. Jake ran to the
window, but the bird had already vanished from sight.
Confused, Jake opened the paper scroll, and upon it he read these words
handwritten in plain English:
Jake Connolly, you are in danger.
Excerpted from "The Ancient Chronicle (Postdiluvian: The Tale of the Atsari, Book 1)" by J D Wise. Copyright © 2017 by J D Wise. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.