(The Six and the Crystals of Ialana) The Continent of Ialana
El-Azar knew that he and his companions were about to die.
The rocky cave floor dug into his broken knees, and the tight ropes that
bound him painfully chafed his swollen wrists and ankles. He could hear
the moans of his companions, but he could not tell if Faelan was among
Was she already dead?
They’d been captured in the Ozgoi tunnels by the soldiers of the
Reptilian King. In spite of their most brutal methods, the soldiers had
not extracted the information they sought from him, but El-Azar did not
know, yet, if any of the others had broken. The blood dripped down his
face and into his eyes. Where was Faelan? If he could have just one more
glimpse of her face . . . .
He slowly twisted his head. The soldier that stood behind him slapped
his face back around with an open palm. He felt another tooth break
loose, but still he could not see Faelan. The others were blurred shapes
in the dim cavern. His captor placed a large foot on his back. With a
vicious kick the soldier pushed him down, and his head hit the flat
stone in front of him. He could hear the crack, a wet, smacking noise
that sounded like someone had dropped a gourd. Then he felt it again:
the fear. The fear of dying—it was so much worse than the pain, but
even through the terror he sensed something else. He sensed his team.
Someone had broken through their own walls of fear, and he could hear
their thoughts quite clearly.
“Brother, we tried. Faelan contacted our friends before she died. They
know what has happened and that our mission has failed. They advised
that all is well for our plan. We will be back, Beloved.”
El-Azar bowed his head as tears ran down his cheeks, mingling with his
blood. He smiled as the axe came down. Yes, it was all well.
Jarah wished he could make himself disappear. He thought that he would
gladly endure the ostracism of his friends—what few he had in
Meadowfield—and his family to possess the powers of a sorcerer, even
if only for some moments. He’d transport himself to somewhere else.
Anywhere else. His spindly legs strained and trembled as he hefted yet
another bag of flour from the mule wagon into his father’s bakery. The
blood from his blistered hands mingled with the grain, but he didn’t
care. Baking bread was not what he planned to do with the rest of his
life, no matter what anyone said.
“Done unloading those bags yet?” His father, Arall, stood in the
doorway, unsmiling, floury hands on hips. Mehin, the wagoner, smirked.
He’d done nothing to help Jarah unload since arriving with the bags.
Jarah had watched him stuff chunks of free bread from the bakery into
his mouth as he lolled in the shade of an awning. Mehin took a swig of
beer from a mug and wiped his mouth.
“Yeah, he’s taken long enough as it is. I need to be on my way.”
Mehin squinted at the sun nearing its midday mark.
Jarah stood in front of his father who had not yet moved out of his way.
His neck hurt and his back felt as if it was breaking. With a deliberate
motion, he twisted, and dropped the bag at Arall’s feet. It made a
sound that echoed his thudding heart, then the bag split wide open and
poured its floury contents onto the wooden floor of the bakery.
The wagoner stopped chewing. There was a silence that felt as if it
lasted for a century. Jarah thought his heart had stopped altogether.
How had he dared—? He already regretted his action. It was not like
him to do something like that, but to watch Mehin sit in the shade,
eating, while he . . . it had been too much for him.
Arall’s mouth, which had fallen open for a brief moment, closed again
with a snap.
“So, that’s the way you want it, eh?” he said. The look of
surprise had left his face, replaced now by red-hot anger. “You’ve
been hinting, boy—don’t think I haven’t noticed. You think
you’re too good to be a baker, to take over my business one day—the
business I have labored over for longer than you’ve been alive—”
“Father, I don’t feel I am too good to be a baker.” He wiped his
bleeding palms on his apron. “I just don’t want to be a baker. At
“So, what do you want, then?”
Jarah thought, as he’d so often done over the past moons. He didn’t
really know though what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. There
were few options in Meadowfield for a seventeen year old, and wishing
for the powers of a sorcerer was not realistic, even to him. When
pressed—and that seldom happened because no one really cared what he
did unless it had something to do with the bakery—he would say, in a
vague way, that he’d go to Three Rivers and find something there.
Preferably, something that did not involve physical labor.
He’d had some schooling, thanks to his mother, Mae, and he could read.
His mother’s father had been a scribe, and he’d taught her to read
and write. She had then taught most of the village children to read
scrolls, as well as how to use the sharpened feather pens to scratch
their marks on the rough vellum with sooty ink.
“I could be a scribe, like grandfather. I like to—”
A muffled guffaw came from underneath the awning. Mehin resumed stuffing
the remainder of the loaf of bread into his mouth. His father merely
“I think scribes would show a little more respect to their elders,
especially their fathers.” The wagoner’s words were barely
intelligible as he chewed.
Jarah did not look at him. He was already regretting his display of
temper. He bent down and gathered the corners of the bag together. He
would try to save as much flour as he could.
I should not have done this. It’s not Father’s fault. It’s all he
knows how to do. But then again, it’s all I know too. I only wish it
Arall shook his head and retreated into the bakery, but he did not offer
to help Jarah. Mehin was now focused on swilling home-brewed ale from a
clay pot he’d retrieved from the wagon. Jarah wondered if he was
already drunk, as he so often was. He felt sorry for Mehin’s only son.
Or did he? He and Blaidd—he was interrupted by his father shouting
from inside the bakery.
“After you’ve unloaded the bags, I want you to wash out these trays,
and then . . .”
Jarah stopped listening, his father’s voice fading as he scooped up
flour from the floor into a pot.
Why could he not be a scribe? He had learned accounting from his father.
It was necessary to understand how much money they made, how many loaves
of bread were sold, and how much flour they would need each day. His
father expected him to learn the trade thoroughly so he could marry and
take over the bakery. His mother had already discovered several bridal
prospects for him, all girls from the village. She pressed him
daily—Mae lacked subtlety—to make a choice, but he did not feel as
if he was ready for marriage. He knew that once a man married he was
stuck with his choices and then he would have no opportunity to find his
real life’s work.
But there was a tiny voice inside his head that would not be silenced.
He thought about that too as he completed his tasks—this time without
complaint, and after he had apologized to Arall. The thin voice sounded
more like the real he, the real Jarah: the part of himself that ached
for something that could not be expressed. But what was that something?
He had no idea. He was still confused.
The small village was quiet when he had, at last, finished at the
bakery. He pulled the hood of his cloak over his head as he made his way
to the well to draw water. It was his last chore of the day: to take
water home for their household needs. His breath misted in the crisp
autumn air. The first star of the evening was already out, the crescent
moon its only companion. Most of the villagers were already in their
homes, their windows not yet shuttered against the cold. The lantern
glows and hearth fires spilled warmly out into the village square.
He could see a small group gathered around the well in the center of the
square as he drew near. Adain was amongst them, and he was predictably
accompanied by several village girls, the very bridal prospects his
mother hoped for, along with Blaidd who lately was Adain’s constant
shadow. He sighed. The boys summer tunics and the open sandals on their
feet defied the bite in the evening air. He felt that Adain would look
down his aquiline nose at him, and smile, as if wondering why they had
been interrupted by this baker’s son with his cloak wrapped around him
like a baby’s blanket. With his red hair and pink skin, Jarah felt
inferior to Adain, and Blaidd always seemed to be smiling—like a
wolf—carefully looking at him with his humorless eyes as he talked.
It didn’t matter that Blaidd’s father was Mehin, the village drunk.
Blaidd always looked so confident, so sure of himself, but Jarah often
felt awkward around others of his age. It was difficult to coordinate
his hands and feet and he’d once been told by a cruel, but pretty
girl, that he walked like a goose. Adain was so graceful compared to
him, and his blond hair and hazel eyes easily got the attention of the
best looking girls in the village. Adain couldn’t possibly understand
how Jarah must feel, and he felt sure he made jokes about him behind his
back while the girls covered their mouths with their hands, and giggled.
Adain would probably be married to one of them before the year was out.
“Hey, it’s Jarah!” He heard Blaidd call out to him once he’d
been noticed. “We’re just saying we’d like to run off and join the
army.” Blaidd smiled, showing strong white teeth. “But you’d
probably prefer to stay and be a baker, eh?”
Jarah ignored him and hooked the rope handle of his bucket onto the
metal hook of the well. The girls giggled, and Blaidd looked pleased.
Jarah began to lower the bucket.
“I don’t want to join the Army,” Adain said. “But anything’s
better than this place. If the Army’s my only option, then I’ll go.
My parents won’t miss me too much with my brothers and sisters still
here. What about you, Jarah?”
“I would never volunteer for the Army,” said Jarah, as he cranked up
the now-full bucket from the well.
There was a brief silence, as if they were waiting for him to say more.
“Soldiering is not my idea of a life pursuit. War is the worst thing I
can think of. You’re right, Blaidd. I’d rather settle for the baker
given a choice between the two options.”
“We’ll be in the Army before the winter is over, wait and see,”
said Blaidd. “The Army’s going around picking up boys just like us.
They’ll drag you from your mother’s arms, Jarah, before you know
what’s happening. I can’t wait.” He rubbed his thin fingers
together as he spoke.
The girls began to drift off, bored with the direction the conversation
was taking. They weren’t interested in war, or what the boys thought
of it. They needed to get home to eat and help with supper, or so they
said. Adain looked disappointed as they sauntered off. The girls giggled
as one of them said something the three boys could not hear. Jarah left
them at the well and walked home with his sloshing bucket. He could hear
Adain and Blaidd still talking and softly laughing. Am I the target of
their humor? His tell-tale face burned red, again.
Mae looked harried, as usual, when he opened the door. Her once-cozy
house was messy and disorganized, and thanks to his three younger
brothers, her calm exterior had been replaced by a wild-eyed look, but
there was a fire in the hearth and a savory smell that emanated from the
blackened pot on the grate. She had spread a colorful tablecloth over
the sturdy wooden kitchen table, and the straw on the floor was what
Jarah would call “reasonably clean”. Arall was already there,
sitting in front of the hearth as he warmed his feet by the fire.
Mae took a sharp knife away from the youngest of Jarah’s brothers,
then wiped at a sticky hand of one of the others with a wet cloth.
“Get yourself washed up and help me with supper, Jarah. I saw you
loitering at the well with those boys. You could’ve talked more to the
girls. What did you say to them that made them run off like that? It’s
time for you to find a wife—you have responsibilities around here.
Your father and I are tired of doing work that you should be doing and
Idris knows he doesn’t help me at all, he’s so busy with the
bakery.” Jarah sighed, and Arall rolled his eyes, but not so that Mae
could see. She was right. Perhaps he should find a wife and settle down.
It was what was expected of boys his age in Meadowfield—in Ialana.
He walked up the crooked, creaky stairs to the small room that he shared
with his brothers, and splashed his face in the dirty water his brothers
had left for him. He’d never had a sister, and in a way he was
relieved. At least if he did leave the village, his parents could pass
the bakery business on to one of his brothers. He felt that, like Adain
and Blaidd, he would not be missed.
The next morning he awoke with the sun, and it took a few seconds to
understand where he was. He’d been having such a strange dream. But
was it a dream? It had felt so real. More real than his life in the
His brothers were up and he could hear them downstairs. He enjoyed this
part of the morning, lying on his straw mattress under the rough covers
for a while before he had to face the day. In his . . . dream—he
wasn’t sure what else to call it, he’d felt like someone else, an
adventurous and brave man. Someone unlike who he really was. He could
see every detail as if he was still experiencing it, and he ran the
vision through his mind several times so he wouldn’t forget anything.
He’d approached an island from the sea. Having never seen the sea
before, he did not know if it really was the big water he’d only ever
heard about, or how it felt to be on it, but somehow he knew it was the
sea. The island was also unlike anything he’d ever seen, since there
was nothing like it in this part of his world. A tall, cone shaped
mountain rose out of the sea on one side with waterfalls that tumbled
from its heights into the forests and a cliff below, and beautiful,
white sand beaches surrounded it on three sides.
He felt as if in the dream he had returned home. As he relived the
experience he felt so much longing and sadness, a homesickness for a
place he had never been to. He was jolted out of his daydream as Mae
burst into the room.
“Up—up—up! Rise, and get busy. Jarah, you are bone-lazy. Your
father is at the bakery already. I have your breakfast packed which is
something you should be doing.” She flung open the shutters. The
glaring sunlight struck him in the face as he gingerly placed a
still-warm foot onto the hard, wooden floor. He washed his face and
hands in the same brown water he’d used last night. It was even
dirtier now that his brothers had washed in it, again, before he’d
All day long he heaved more grain sacks, retrieved baked loaves of bread
from the ovens, and helped his father at the front of the store with
customers, reminding himself to smile—as if this job made him the
happiest person in Ialana.
It was difficult to keep the smile on his face, though, when the
stranger walked in.
He was a hard-faced man with a military bearing. A sword swung at his
side, and Jarah thought there was an unsettling air about him. He wanted
bread, he said, and a lot of it.
“Headin’ north. Hope to sell it to the King’s Army,” he
responded, rather reluctantly it seemed to Jarah, to Arall’s question
of why he needed so much bread. “I supply the army with . . . things.
Things they may need.” He looked over at Jarah. “You’d best lay
low, boy. There’ll be war in the land again, and they’re lookin’
for new recruits.” His amused chuckle sent shivers up Jarah’s spine.
“Who’s our King fighting with this time?” Arall asked. He could
not disguise the fear on his face. Jarah knew Blaidd was right; boys
went missing all the time.
“Don’t know, and don’t partic’larly care, either. Rhagbeneth has
been yappin’ like dogs at our borders, Galon has never been our
friend, and there’s a monster in Rhiannon. Goes by the name of
Amrafalus. He has mines, and metal to make weapons and armor. We have
little in the way of mines and metal, but guess what we do have?” His
agate eyes swiveled around to Jarah again, and he sniffed. “Brenin’s
wise to keep the army strong with young blood. Well, I best get goin’
now.” He gathered up his loaves in a dirty cloth and left without so
much as a goodbye.
“Do you think there’ll be war, Father?”
Arall thoughtfully counted the coins the man had given him. When he had
finished, he looked up.
“They’re always threatening, son. Always. No reason to think this
time’s any different to other times. But just in case the man is
right, you stay in the shop or house. No hanging out in the village
square with other boys, and no wandering out in the fields or forest.”
Jarah knew there were bad people trying to take their land away and
someone must defend it, but the war always seemed far away and unreal to
him. Rumors flew around the village like sparrows—rumors that
Amrafalus had returned.
“Does Amrafalus really exist? I thought he was nothing more than a
“Amrafalus is a legend, he’s not real. People call him the Dragon
King, a man who is not human, and who possesses unbelievable magic and
power, just like Idris and the other gods. So of course he does not
exist. How could he?”
“But you believe Idris exists, right?”
“Gods are different to people, son. Now get back to work. We don’t
have all day to stand around and discuss philosophical things. The bread
As he worked Jarah wondered: if there was an Idris, or any of the other
so-called gods, why was there still war? Why weren’t their wishes for
peace, healing, and happiness granted? They made offerings every moon to
the gods at the roadside shrines, and at the big shrine in the village.
He shrugged. If a god was so powerful why would he need to take out his
rage on his helpless subjects and demand appeasement to end wars or heal
his people? Life could be very strange indeed.
Excerpted from "The Ialana Trilogy: The Six" by Katlynn Brooke. Copyright © 2016 by Katlynn Brooke. 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.