For Iain, village life wasn't too exciting until a sudden change in climate forces him to cross the sea in search of a new home for his tribe. There he discovers the stories about strange and mystical beasts are more beautiful and terrifying than imagined.
Alone and plagued by a bitter sense of loss, he is drawn into a maze of interwoven worlds where everyone he meets seems to have their own agenda for him. But battling dragons and an evil sorcerer aren't his only problems. He must discover the one attribute the Hue-man tribes possess that can save them from extinction.
A fierce woman warrior, a mysterious Seraphim, and Iain's own desire to overcome his past provide the best chance of survival. Even then, Iain is confronted by the risk that those he trusts the most may be plotting the destruction of his people and the Rise of First World.
"The writing of this book is almost poetic, i enjoyed a lot, the expressions are beautiful and full of meaning. The story is easy to understand and appeal to imagination."– Amazon Review
"This is a powerful and well written tale, one that pulls the reader into the world effortlessly. My only complaint is that the story had to end.;) Rise of the First World is well written and the author has created an incredible world (worlds!) that are well thought out and contain fantastic characters and imagery. I highly recommend this book!"– Amazon Review
"I loved this book!! I am a very visual person and the way the author describes the characters in the scenes, took me right into the story. I highly recommend this novel and look forward to futures books by Christopher Katava."– Amazon Review
Wind whipped Iain's hair, pulling at the leather knot keeping the long strands out of his face. Far below, whitecapped swells thundered against the steep cliffs. Vibrations shuddered through the ground beneath his feet. Wave after wave tumbled towards the dismal island, taunting him with their freedom to travel.
Iain closed his eyes with a heavy sigh, wishing the waves to carry him across the rolling sea to the forbidden mountains of mystery beyond the horizon.
Even obscured by the cloak of darkness as they were, Iain knew the far-off lands well from the maps his father had made. That same man who since forbade any of the tribe from setting foot upon the distant territory.
It was safe enough for him to cross the sea and bring back a Sune-Tara mate, but after claiming what he wanted, to say it's too dangerous for any other to do the same I cannot understand. What did he see or learn that could make such a giant among men seek shelter upon this island and say it is enough?
Iain felt his mother's eyes upon him and couldn't help but smile. She was far away, back at their house, but Iain learned long ago, there was nowhere he could go where she couldn't see him. That was just one of her gifts. From the stories she told, the ability was not uncommon among her people living at the edge of the Endless Forest beyond the sea.
The stories gave him knowledge and entertainment, but his dreams fed his restless desire more than anything else. Out there in the darkness was a land where creatures of legend still roamed. Where tribes like the Sune-Tara practiced the ancient magical craft and where the spirits of those swept away when the sea rose up to cover First World still lingered. Held fast by their hunger to return and rule the realm of man, they laid in wait amongst the shadows. There was the home Iain had only glimpsed in visions.
Another heavy sigh escaped and he turned, making his way across the uneven growth of thick peat grasses. Up above, Luphin, Goddess of the Night Orb, aided his trek by casting a gentle glow between silver-tinged clouds scurrying across the sky. She walked low to the horizon this night, but Iain didn't fear meeting her, for she was still half dressed. The storytellers said, only when her cloak has been drawn tight and she's disappeared from the sky should men keep a wary eye, for that is when she has taken the form of a beautiful young maiden, determined to find a mortal mate. So powerful was her beauty, no man could resist her temptations and he would be driven mad when she left to give birth to another point of light in the darkened sky.
Iain picked up the pace, knowing Ral would soon rise to give light to the land. If he didn't sneak back into the house before the dawning, his father's guards would surely catch him. Troubling enough he knew there would be a lecture coming on the morrow from Elsbeth, his mother. He certainly didn't wish to endure one from his father, Karoc, as well.
Distracted while plotting out what he would say, a flicker of movement nearby caught his eye. Dropping at once into a crouch, he sidled into a small hollow. Offering up a silent prayer to Ault, Lord of Wind, Iain asked for Luphin's glow to be obscured by the clouds. Relieved when the land was plunged into shadow, he peered into the darkness, searching for the source of movement.
I dare not delay for long.
There, not far off, a robed figure headed directly towards the paltry hiding place. Iain took stock of his options. He had a knife as a last resort, but preferred avoiding conflict if possible. If he was seen by anyone from the village, word would surely get back to his father and that was bad enough, but if it was a spy from across the water he would have no choice but to battle.
Focus on the breath. Summon the Melding the way Mother trained you.
Iain's intuition directed him to merge with the land, become one with it. He flattened out as best as possible and opened his senses. The smell of dew soaked grass. The ground shedding the last of the warmth gained from the day. Croaking frogs in a nearby mud hole set an unsteady rhythm.
Surrender to soil and sky.
The figure stopped, turning first one way then the other, searching. Through half closed lids, Iain watched as it angled away. More gliding than walking, it faded into the darkness. An empty feeling formed in the pit of his stomach, almost paralyzing him with hopelessness. The cloud moved on, reminding Iain of his urgency. Pushing away the sensation, he hurried towards home, unsure if what he'd seen was real.
Nearing the outer wall surrounding the house, Iain paused to watch the silhouettes of guards against the stacked stone. Karoc would be upset if he knew the guards were walking together instead of keeping a more watchful eye. But, as long as it served Iain's own interest, their secret was safe with him. In truth, there was little danger from any attackers. Those who had brought thoughts of malice from the mainland soon found the island to be well defended. With only one shallow harbor to provide a break in the sheer cliffs, invading hordes were easily driven back across the water.
As soon as the two guards disappeared around the far corner, Iain sprinted the short distance across the open ground and leaped, grabbing hold of the uneven top edge of the damp stone wall. Not wanting to be seen hung out like a freshly gutted roe deer, he took a quick peek over the defensive perimeter.
Just as Iain expected, the other guards had gathered within the halo of torches by the main gate. Unsteady light sparred with rivulets of shadows across the garden grounds, casting flickering images against the dark stone of the main house. The smell of burning seal fat assaulted Iain's nostrils as he inhaled deeply to catch his breath.
The guards spoke in hushed tones to conceal their nightly activity borne from sheer boredom of patrolling in endless circles.
Iain knew they didn't dare linger long. Karoc was thorough in judgment for good or bad, and punishment would be swift against their lack of discipline.
Iain paused, waiting for the perfect moment. As expected, it didn't take long to arrive, ushered in on a stiff gust off the restless sea. Wind laid the flames from the torches low, darkening the inner grounds. The guards turned their backs, hunching their shoulders against the chill.
Scrambling over the top, he dropped to the damp ground and bolted towards his destination. The whistling breeze across the stone surface covered the sound of his footfalls.
An archer's window, almost invisible in the shadowed wall, provided the perfect passageway for Iain's regular illicit excursions.
Once again he launched from the ground, this time grabbing hold of the stone sill. He wriggled through the opening, almost too large to fit through the narrow gap. Stepping softly to the wood floor, he made sure to avoid the spot that had a habit of squeaking. Turning, he peered out into the courtyard just in time to see a guard move past.
Iain leaned back further into the shadows so light from the soldier's torch wouldn't illuminate him. He couldn't resist the smug smile spreading across his face.
"Welcome home, son."
The smile disappeared in an instant, replaced by a grimace as Iain's gaze shifted to the heavens. Fear coiled in his gut but he did his best to mask it as he turned. "Mother. Good of you to wait up for my return."
"Do not think you can talk your way out of this, my son. Come. Sit with me by the fire."
Iain knew well enough protest would only worsen the situation, so he turned and walked to the large hearth without delay.
Glowing coals left over from the previous night still cast a faint light around the main chamber. Elsbeth sat in her chair watching him. Her bright blue eyes seemed to shine with an icy glare, draining away what little warmth Iain felt from his exertion. The lecture began even before he settled on the stool across from where she sat.
"You have violated your father's rules once again. You know how he feels about you leaving the safety of the house without his knowledge. Furthermore, you set out without an escort against your agreement when last you were caught. So, not only do you risk making a powerful enemy out of your father, but you are sacrificing your own integrity of word."
Her gaze fixed firmly and as much as Iain wanted to refute the charges she brought against him, he couldn't defend himself from the blatant truths. Nonetheless, he could not sit quietly. "I'm well past my Coming of Age celebration. By our own tradition, I should be allowed to come and go on my own."
"Your father is Chieftain of this house … this village … this island." Elsbeth waved her hand in a large arc to reinforce her point. "He can change rules whenever he sees the importance of doing so."
Exasperated, Iain snapped his response. "But why must the rule change just when I'm set to receive the benefit of what used to be? This seems to be an injustice."
Elsbeth smiled, accentuating her high cheek bones. Her eyes sparkled as the edge of severity dissipated from her voice. "You've already lost your argument, for you left reason behind. Your lament about the rule change matters not, for you entered into accord with your father knowing of the change. All that remains is the fact of you going against your own word."
Iain hung his head, resting his forehead in the palm of his hand. "Why did I agree to such a thing?"
"A valuable lesson for the future leader of the people of Toratin wouldn't you agree? Treaties are founded on such agreements and tribes must hold fast to the truth. If even a single person turns their back on their word, they turn their back on the gods themselves. To do so risks a most severe punishment, more so than any mortal can offer up."
Iain looked up, eyes pleading for some measure of sympathy. "But the dreams, they torment me. Not only when Luphin walks the sky, but now as well in the full light of Ral. I fear closing my eyes even for a breath, for to do so is to open them into another world. The same world you told tales about when I was a child, the world from which you came."
Elsbeth studied her son for a moment before replying. "Speak to me of your dreams and visions. Perhaps I can offer some understanding so you can leave them behind and find rest."
Iain rose from the stool and moved to stand closer to the glowing coals. Herding them into a pile with a bronze rod, he watched the shifting patterns from the tiny flames play across their charred surfaces. "I've seen the countryside, as if from the back of a large bird. There is much open land and the hunting is plentiful. From the frozen peaks of Goddess Annapur's home, down past the hem of her cloak of ice where the Palkrie are said to live, along the Singing River, and to the edges of the Endless Forest, I've viewed all of it. I don't understand why we haven't taken our people across the water and built ourselves a new village. The land appears to be plentiful." Iain paused, shaking his head. "What was it Father saw when last he traveled across the water and brought you here to be his mate? What sort of beast is it he cowers from? Or does he fear retribution from your tribe for taking you against your will? I know it has nothing to do with the waters themselves. We travel to the other islands often enough. It is only the vast lands of your homeland that are forbidden."
Elsbeth couldn't help but to laugh lightly. "Your father is a great warrior from a long lineage of warriors, I doubt he would cower from anything. However, part of being a great leader is knowing when battle would be a lost cause."
Iain struggled to keep his voice low so as not to wake the rest of the household. "That's what I mean. Battle what? The Sune-Tara? Dragons? Minotaurs? I very much desire to see such wonders someday, but it would aid to know who to trust."
Fingering the pink stone hanging from a simple leather cord around her neck, Elsbeth took deep consideration before answering. "Be careful for what you wish, my son. Trust yourself above all others. Dragons are creatures of profound honor, but it doesn't mean they all stand in allegiance to the council."
Iain looked up with a start. "But in the stories you've told me, you said the dragons took no side in debate, only serving the decree of the wise ones."
"Such used to be the case." She stared sadly at the fading embers from the fire that earlier had been the centerpiece to joyous laughter and song. "Much seems to be changing. I feel the duality of this world has begun to dissolve the oneness the council used to represent." Appearing startled that she'd drifted into wistful reverie, she snapped her attention back to Iain and changed the topic. "What more of your dreams can you tell me?"
Exasperated, Iain ran his hands over his hair, interlocking his fingers behind his head. "My dreams? I wish I could say more, but the images dance just out of reach. Symbols unlike any I've ever seen. Truer to tell is the feelings I awaken with." Once more, Iain turned to the flickering coals. "The feelings pull me, each a specter of some unbidden voice calling me to serve them, and each wishes me to walk a different path. Save one."
Elsbeth's eyes narrowed as she listened. "What is the common thread in this tapestry of dreams?"
"Where all voices agree without dissent is that I must cross the sea. They call me from my sleep often. I don't wish to go against Father's decree, but for me to not escape these walls would surely lead to madness. The edge of the cliffs is the only place I can calm their insistent clamor within my mind."
Elsbeth released a long, slow breath. "You're uncovering your destiny, that much I can say." She brushed away a tear that suddenly appeared at the corner of her eye to roll down her cheek. "I fear it is coming to pass much sooner than I expected. I'm torn, for your destiny is woven together with many others and as much as my Sune-Tara blood wishes you to follow your dreams, my instincts as your mother wants nothing more than to protect you from the dangers lying in wait upon that road. I cannot do both and I know which path I must choose."
Coming to his mother's side, Iain laid his hand gently on her shoulder. "You need not worry about me. Father has taught me well both the blade and bow. I shall be victorious against every challenger."
Unable to hold back a sad laugh, Elsbeth said, "The path laid out before you is fraught with more than just battles of the flesh, my son. I've witnessed things that try the heart and soul. If I could, I'd spare you from such a life."
"But you have taught me the Sune-Tara wisdom which states, 'Destiny not pursued is nothing less than a life never lived.' And Father often speaks of courage born from the ashes of failure."
A slight smile curled Elsbeth's lips. "So, I see you do listen to your father and I. Yet you pick and choose from our words which you follow and those which you ignore?"
Iain bit his lip, realizing how he'd been herded like a goat back to the point of his disobedience. A resigned shrug of the shoulders was his only reply.
Elsbeth lifted the small pink stone to her brow and closed her eyes. After a few moments, she allowed the ornament to rest against her chest and spoke again. "Tomorrow I'll see if I can make a tea that will help you sleep through the night. For now, go and get some rest. Ral will rise soon and your chores await." She turned to stare at the fire once more. "Iain, I witnessed your trespass this eve. I sense I may not be the only one who has."
The following morning, Iain went about his chores with a sense of optimism, although his mother's warning remained in his thoughts. The sky was clear for a change and Ral shone bright upon him as he chopped wood in preparation for the coming of the season of mists. Though there were servants that could do the task, Karoc made sure Iain never lost touch with how much effort it took to survive. Looking up he saw Lelaray, one of his father's two highest ranking guards approaching. Iain's stomach sank. Lelaray had no fondness for him and to tell the truth, the feeling was mutual. There was little possibility this was a casual visit.
"Your father wants to see you right away."
Iain nodded. "Tell him I'll be right there."
"My orders are to escort you back directly, so I won't be taking commands from you." Lelaray snapped.
Iain lifted the axe with a rapid motion to rest it upon his shoulder. As expected, Lelaray flinched by reaching for the hilt of his sword hanging from his belt. Iain smiled. "After you."
With a scowl, the guard's thin features drew tighter than normal and his dark eyes conveyed condescending bitterness. "You first, and leave the axe."
Iain knew better than to keep his father waiting, but he couldn't resist playing out his posturing a bit further. Letting the axe handle slide down through his well callused hand, he clutched it closer to its head and peered at the guard over its double edge. "Seems unwise to leave such a fine tool behind. Who knows what trouble we may encounter?"
Lelaray's scowl turned more to a sneer. "It's not far and I assure you, I've sworn to give up my life to protect you if it ever becomes necessary."
The smile faded away from Iain's expression and the two men glared at each other. A hearty swing buried the axe head into a chunk of sectioned oak. With a loud cracking sound, the log spilt in half and left the tool wedged in the soft soil. "You best pray to the gods it never becomes necessary then." With that, Iain shouldered past Lelaray and headed to the house to what was sure to be an equally unpleasant conversation with his father.
Back in the house, Iain saw Casin, the other highest-ranking guard standing just outside Karoc's private chamber. Unlike Lelaray, Casin was a good friend of Iain's, but even he looked perturbed.
"How's his mood?" Iain asked as he nodded to the doorway.
Casin wouldn't meet his gaze. "You'll find out soon enough. Just remember, you brought this upon yourself."
Lelaray grabbed the back of Iain's shirt and spoke low enough that his voice wouldn't carry beyond the closed curtain before them. "You see. Your arrogance and selfishness doesn't just get you in trouble. We all pay the price." With that, he swept the curtain aside and shoved Iain into the small room. Casin followed close behind.
Inside the chamber, Karoc sat at a table looking through a stack of scrolls and muttering under his breath. Even sitting, his large stature made the room feel cramped. As was often the case, his favorite knife lay unsheathed next to his hand.
Lelaray gruffly moved Iain to the stool across from his father. "Here he is, sir," the guard snarled.
The small, windowless room fell into an uncomfortable silence as the stagnant air became a swill of each man's sweat. When Karoc finally lifted his gaze from the parchment, he studied the three men before him. There was no mistaking the anger in the large man's eyes. The swill went from the consistency of broth to stew, as each of them awaited the chieftain's words. Knuckles turned white as Karoc pressed down on the table top and slowly rose to his feet. The combination of his long, dark hair, his equally wild-looking beard, and the fur-covered vest he wore made him appear more like one of the legendary Palkrie than a man. His voice was steady and controlled, belying the ferocity Iain was sure lurked beneath the surface.
"My son has embarrassed you and your soldiers once again. In so doing, he's teaching us all something. Do you know what he is teaching us?" Not waiting for an answer, Karoc continued. "He is teaching us we are weak and vulnerable. You have trained your men well to fight off an attacking horde, yet one young man can walk right past you undetected. Do you agree this is a problem for us?"
The guards answered the affirmative in unison.
"You must begin training your men in new tactics, yet how is this possible when you don't even know how you're being defeated? You must first learn from someone who has the skill you lack." Karoc watched the guard's faces for the reaction to his next words. "From now on, Iain will train you."
Both men stared at the chieftain in shock, but didn't complain.
Iain almost choked in surprise.
Karoc nodded his head approvingly. "I will tell you something I've learned about being a leader. Take every advantage to stay in power. You see, in many ways, we're fortunate the one who is making fools of us means us no harm. So we must use this opportunity to learn while we have it, before someone who does intend harm comes along. Do you agree?"
Both men nodded but maintained their silence.
"Good," he exclaimed light heartedly, rubbing his hands together. "Iain will be taking on some additional chores as it has become clear he has too much extra energy and needs a more constructive way to direct it. To ensure you have the opportunity to study with my son, I require one of you stand with him while he cleans the goat pens in the morning, and the other will do the same in the evening." The smile on his face faded. "And I do mean stand with him, in the pen, with the goats. In addition, because he seems able to slip away so easily from your watch, you will personally escort him out to the fields to dump the droppings and back. I trust you will take advantage of this opportunity to learn."
"Yes, sire," both men responded.
Karoc took a deep breath and continued. "There was something else … Ah, yes. Lelaray. Have I ever told the history of this blade?" Karoc lifted the dagger from the table and brought it around to show him. "This blade belonged to my father. He made it himself. He forged the metal and carved the hilt from the bone of some giant animal which no longer roams these lands. Look." Karoc held it close to the guard's face, pointing to the rough engraving in the hilt. "See this writing? He put his name here and below it, before he gave it to me, he carved my name. Someday I will put Iain's name below mine and present it to him."
Lelaray nodded, "It is a fine blade to be sure."
"Aye. That it is. Do you know why I'm showing you the detail on the hilt?"
"Ah," Karoc uttered. His voice changed to a deep growl and he leaned much closer to the guard. "Because if I ever see you push my son again, I will drive this blade into your skull right between your eyes. This hilt will be the last thing you see as your eyes roll back in your head and your stinking, rotting flesh soils the floor of my house. I have made myself clear to you."
Lelaray licked his lips and nodded, "Yes, sire," he croaked.
"Good," Karoc said, his voice returning to a more normal timbre. Tapping the hilt against the guard's forehead, he continued, "Learn. Learn from every opportunity. You may go now."
Both men bowed their heads and hurried from the room.
Karoc returned to stand on the far side of the table, placing his knife down gently next to the sheaf of unrolled scrolls.
Iain noticed the one on top was one of the many charcoal etched maps of the lands across the sea. His father's low voice interrupted his study of the markings.
"I can't begin to tell you the measure of my disappointment in you."
Iain hung his head and closed his eyes, wishing more to feel his father's wrath than his shame.
"You left without permission again last night. Do you not understand the scope of what you've done?" Karoc's voice grew louder. "Do you not understand I have enemies in this very village? That means by our blood, you do as well. Do you not understand that your actions weaken me and my rule? Not to mention, the harm you've done to your own honor. Of course you don't!" Karoc roared. "You're too busy dreaming about the world to come and complaining about how hard your life is. You don't understand because you are selfish. You are not the leader these people will need when my life here is over." Leaning forward, he drummed his fingers on the table top next to where his knife lay. "I have killed men for less than the disrespect you have shown to me and to my house." Slamming his fist on the table caused everything on it to bounce. "By the Gods, I understand why many of the beasts kill their own young. You make me question if I can entrust my lands to you."
Iain adjusted himself on the stool while keeping a watchful eye on his father's movements. Feeling it was now his turn to speak, he cleared his throat. "I hear the wisdom of your words, Father, and I see now that my actions were indeed selfish. I see I endangered both myself and your honor as well. For that I sincerely beg forgiveness. You can be assured from now on I will contain my restless spirit to my duties serving you and your house."
Karoc's question was short and to the point. "By what deeds can I believe you? You said much the same the last time you found my rules too confining."
Knowing he didn't have long to come up with a suitable answer, Iain blurted out the first word that came to mind. "Growth."
Karoc's eyebrows lifted with surprise.
Having gotten his father's attention, now Iain had to make sense of his statement. "I am not the same man I was yesterday, nor will I be the same man tomorrow as I am this day. The true measure of a man is not only in what he's done, but also to what he is willing to become. In the same way, one can't fault the acorn for not providing shade as it is. But, allowed to grow, it will become the mighty oak."
His father appeared unmoved. "Your efforts to parlay still need much work. It will serve you far better in the future if you don't lay it on so thick." Walking around the table he sat against its edge, causing it to moan an objection to the burden. "Your words are correct, but I'm a man, not a tree. It takes too long for the acorn to become an oak. I can't wait." Karoc leaned forward, putting his large hands on Iain's shoulders. "Give due consideration to your words. You would do well to make them hold meaning that is unbreakable. For now, to me, you're still a seedling and easily crushed beneath my boot."
Iain felt his father's grip tighten, thumbs slowly increasing pressure against his throat. Then Karoc released him, "Return to your duties and prove yourself worthy to receive food from my table."