A brooding demigod. A young sorceress. A race to restore magic to the lands.
Long bereft of magic, the lands of Amarion are dying. Humans are devolving. Their legendary protector, the demigod Wildmane, has given up on them.
When a monster sent for young Mirolah slays her adopted sister instead, Mirolah is pulled into a quest to bring Wildmane out of his self-imposed exile and restore magic to the lands. Undead threadweavers rise to stop her. To beat them, she must learn more about herself and threadweaving than she thought possible. And she must do it quickly…
"Wildmane is captivating from the start, with a unique and enchanting world full of engaging characters. Fahnestock's ability to develop heroes and villains alike makes for an exciting and enjoyable read that I couldn't put down! While the journey of Mirolah and Wildmane builds at an exciting pace, the supporting characters are just as intriguing and provide a rich context that I'm now emotionally invested in. Well-written and imaginative, I can't wait to read more as this series continues!"– Jaclyn (Amazon reader)
"Todd Fahnestock's work continues to impress. Wildmane is a fast-paced epic fantasy novel, the first in his Threadweavers trilogy. In Wildmane, Fahnestock has woven a tale replete with well-developed characters, rich world-building, and a gripping storyline. You'll love it!"– Megan (Amazon reader)
"Wildmane has everything an epic fantasy should. The world is easily envisioned, the quest is believable, and the magic is enviable. I truly enjoyed the distinct and relatable characters, and I'm ready to finish this journey with them."– TAM (Amazon reader)
"Todd Fahnestock has created another page turner that delivers on every level as Wildmane leaves nothing out. It's captivating and impossible to put down. I can't wait for the second book in the series to find where the heroine Mirolah and the main (tortured by his past) character Wildmane go next. Excellent book."– Amazon Review
"I loved this story! The characters are people you feel like you know - or people you wish you knew. The world in which it resides is complex and floating on top of a deep history with plenty of room for my imagination to conjure up new possibilities. The system of magic—Threadweaving—is new and innovative with its potential uses being shaped by the user's character as much as their experience with it. It's so interesting to see how Mirolah's unique perspective as a neophyte allows her to understand Threadweaving in ways that her predecessors were blind to."– Brett (Amazon reader)
Mirolah could sense the moment before the sunrise. She imagined the birds chirping outside her window, waking her from slumber, but they never did. She was always up before them.
She moved the covers off her legs, pushed her rumpled nightgown down and stood up on the grooved wooden floorboards. It was going to be a beautiful day.
She smiled at the rest of her sleeping sisters, then knelt down quietly, lifted the loose floorboard underneath and gazed at her treasure for a moment. When she first discovered the loose board and the space underneath, it had been full of grit and dust. When no one was around, she had carefully cleaned it, lined it with cloth, and placed her most prized possession inside: a book.
Owning books wasn't against the law exactly, but no one had them. It was said that in far-off Buravar, kings and queens still read books, but in Rith, those who read were shunned, sometimes even killed. It reminded people too much of the threadweavers of old. Not only had they created wonders with the GodSpill, but they had been voracious readers, stockpiling knowledge in great buildings called libraries.
Once, the work of the threadweavers had been prized, but that was before they brought down the gods' own wrath and the great dying, before the threadweavers had destroyed the lands of Amarion.
No, reading books wasn't against the law, but it was a sin.
Still, she couldn't stop herself from reading. It scared her, how desperately she longed for the words of those books, how she devoured them. Though she understood that threadweavers were evil, she couldn't see how reading stories about ages gone by was bad. The two did not fit together in her mind. So when no one was around—which wasn't often in Lawdon and Tiffienne's busy house—she read that book over and over. She knew all five of the legends of Wildmane that it contained. She could recite them from memory.
If she was honest with herself, she needed those stories like plants needed the rising sun. Whenever the dark shadows of her past crept into her mind, she imagined herself inside those stories, and the shadows fled. After all, nothing could stand before Wildmane. She would close her eyes and picture him arriving, tall and strong, battling the shadows, sending them running. He would sweep her away to wondrous Calsinac on a flying horse. There she would live as a queen in a castle by the ocean, with red sands stretching to the horizon.
Mirolah heard Casra waking, and she hastily replaced the board and stood up. She made her bed as the now-chirping birds drew her sisters from slumber.
Of course, if the birds did not wake them, then they were not so lucky, because Lawdon would be in shortly after, and his wrath would fall like a hammer upon any of her sisters who were too lazy to get up. Eight of her adopted sisters usually scrambled out of bed before Lawdon's booming voice descended. Mi'Gan, however, was simply not made for the morning. Lawdon's harangue hit her daily. Sometimes Mirolah wondered if Mi'Gan did it on purpose, just to give the old bear something to growl about in the morning.
Mirolah crept down the stairs and to the back of the house, quietly gathered wood for the morning fire and brought it inside. A stack of three books gathered from Old Rith sat by the fireplace, to be used only as tinder, of course. Books were useful in that way, and using them in that fashion wasn't considered dangerous. It hurt her heart to tear out the pages one by one and light them, but Mirolah had already read each of these books. Whenever Lawdon came back with a new stack to use, she put the newest in the tile shop where it was easier to read them with no one looking. As she got through them, she would move the ones she'd read inside the house. So far, they hadn't caught on.
Soon, the logs were crackling within the stove, and she put the wash water on to boil. Tiffienne would be down soon, and she would want the water hot. She returned to the woodpile several times, until she had a day's worth stacked beside the stove, then she turned her attention to the workshop. Lawdon was Rith's premiere tile-maker, and those ovens needed to be stocked as well.
As Mirolah hauled the wood into the workshop, she heard the house come awake. Shera and Locke talked back and forth in the kitchen, making the biscuits that would be the rest of the family's breakfast. Casra and Fillen thumped through the house, collecting clothes from the previous day.
Mirolah dropped her last armload of wood on the pile and heard Lawdon's gruff voice shake the walls. She couldn't hear the words, but she could guess them. Poor Mi'Gan had slept in again.
Dusting herself off, Mirolah left the workshop and entered the family room once more. She smiled at Fillen, who set a huge wicker basket full of laundry on the dining table.
"You'll get the look again if you leave that basket there," Mirolah said.
"She won't be down for another couple of minutes." Fillen said. "I'll only be a second." And she dashed up the stairs again. Sometimes, Mirolah wondered at her sisters. Tiffienne had told Fillen time and again that the dining table was not the place for laundry, yet every morning Fillen put the baskets in the same place. Mirolah wondered if it had something to do with the regions each of her sisters came from, if being born in a certain place shaped your behavior. Perhaps Quantani, where Mi'Gan came from, started the day later than Rith. Maybe all Quantanis were late sleepers. And perhaps people from Fillen's home, Gildon, always tried to get away with what they knew they couldn't.
Except Mirolah was also from Gildon, and she wasn't like Fillen at all. Mirolah understood why there were rules, and it made life so much easier if you just followed them, worked quickly, and finished your chores. All the time Mi'Gan spent arguing with Lawdon, or that Fillen spent getting caught by Tiffienne, could be spent finishing her chores.
Mirolah waited until Fillen's footsteps faded, then she moved the basket to the floor by the stove. Before she had even straightened up, she heard Tiffienne's slow tread coming down the stairs. Tiffienne was a broad and gentle woman, with eyes that twinkled and a smile that could turn to a reproving frown quicker than you could blink. She never missed anything. Sometimes the sisters whispered among themselves that she could hear a secret being told, even if she was in the farthest room in the house. She was the type of woman who was wonderful to squeeze when you were scared. Mirolah remembered many nights of bad dreams she'd had when she'd first come here. She had found refuge in Tiffienne's arms. How many girls had Tiffienne reassured in the night?
"Good morning, Mirolah," Tiffienne said, looking at the basket by Mirolah's feet. A knowing smile flickered at the corners of her lips. Mirolah blushed. "Are you done with your chores?" Tiffienne asked.
Mirolah nodded. "I was just about to go to the circle."
Tiffienne touched Mirolah's cheek and smiled even more. She seemed about to say something, but didn't. "We'll see you this afternoon then."
Mirolah nodded and fetched her writing desk from the closet. Lawdon had made it for her when she told him that she wanted to begin writing letters for people in the town center, called the "circle" because of how six roads met there like spokes at the center of a wheel.
So far as Mirolah knew, she was the only person in Rith who could read. Nobody in Rith even wanted to read, it seemed. The magistrate of the town wouldn't even talk of such things when they were brought up, even though there were scribes elsewhere who wrote letters and enabled communication between kingdoms and villages. It was said there was a stack of letters from other places in the magistrate's building, unopened and unread. People wanted news from Rith. The Sunriders had scattered everybody west of The Bracer—families split, many killed like Mirolah's own parents. Mirolah obsessed about those letters, sitting unopened. What if they were mothers looking for children? Or children looking for their parents?
When, several months ago at dinner, Lawdon had mentioned that the magistrate was a damned fool to cut off communication with the rest of Amarion, that he should acquire a scribe to read and write messages, Mirolah made her decision.
"I can read," she had said, forcing herself to speak. "I can write." She didn't like to be the center of attention, but if there were families looking for each other, she had to help.
It had been a risk, but Lawdon and Tiffienne had helped her, and together they had managed to convince the town, to the glowering disapproval of the magistrate, that having one person who could read and write letters—and letters only—was valuable instead of frightening.
She ran her hands over the dark, smooth wood of her writing desk. Lawdon had carved her initials in the upper right-hand corner. It was a sweet gesture, especially since Lawdon had never written a letter before in his life. Of course, that section of the little desk was ruined for writing upon, but Mirolah didn't mind. It made her smile every time she looked at it.
The little desk had clever foldout legs, so that Mirolah could flatten it and carry it easily to the fountain and back. Keeping the legs against her side, she tucked the desk under her arm and left the house.
Rith's city circle had a fountain in the center, called Vaisha's Fountain after the goddess. It was twenty feet in diameter, with four sculpted dolphins rising up out of the circular base, holding the second tier. Three smaller dolphins rose out of that, holding the third, and so on, until only one sculpted dolphin held aloft the fifth and final tier. She imagined it used to cascade with water, back in the Age of Ascendance. The fountain had been created by threadweavers, of course. There was no underground river bubbling up to operate it. No aqueduct sloped down to feed it. Back when GodSpill could be used to twist the natural order of things, the water had come out of thin air, bubbling up from the top tier and cascading down the dolphins.
But the threadweavers had been executed for their hubris, dropped by the gods in one killing stroke, like marionettes with severed strings. The GodSpill had also been taken away, now absent from the lands of Amarion for as long as anyone could remember.
Vaisha's fountain was beautiful, but it still made Mirolah uncomfortable. If it wasn't in the center of the circle, if the caravans didn't arrive here, she would have chosen a different place to set up her desk.
She squeezed into her normal space between Taegen, the spiced tea vendor, and Baelene, the woman with the pretty ceramic necklaces. They both said good morning to her, and Mirolah smiled and returned the greeting. The first day she'd come to write letters, months ago, everyone had gone silent. Since not a single person in Rith could read or write—even the magistrate—the suspicion about Mirolah had been thick.
In a way, those who loved to read and write, the threadweavers, were what had destroyed the world. Though many used the service Mirolah provided, she never used the word "read" or "write". Rather, she said, "I can help you make a message" or "Allow me to craft your words for you." Thirsting for knowledge beyond what was normal for a human, that was reviled. Helping others was honored.
That first day, she'd not been able to find a place next to the fountain, and no one had been willing to make space.
But that was then. Mirolah had gradually convinced them that she was only interested in helping lost families communicate with each other, even reunite in some cases. Slowly, the other vendors came to realize that she wasn't a threat, and could in fact be an advantage.
Now they reserved her spot. Mirolah was good for business. On busy days, there was always a line in front of Mirolah's desk, and those waiting had a good long while to view the wares of the venders on either side of her.
Unfolding the legs of her desk, Mirolah sat on the edge of the fountain and began laying out her packet of blank parchment and her inkwell. She carefully withdrew a small leather bundle from a pocket inside her vest, pulled the lace and unwrapped her quill pen. It was a fine pen, and had cost Lawdon five full crowns. Mirolah would never forget the day when she had approached Lawdon with her request to write letters at the square. She had been so scared he would say no. After all, why should Mirolah get out of helping the others with the housework and the work of Lawdon's tile shop to run off and write letters for strangers?
But he had said yes. He told her she could begin the following week, one day a week. At first, Mirolah thought he'd postponed her to give himself time to redistribute her duties to the other girls, but the truth became evident when, at the beginning of the next week, Lawdon presented her with the desk, parchment, ink, and this beautiful pen. Mirolah had cried. With his sternest expression, he told her how much everything had cost, and that she must pay back the money by the end of the year.
She paid him back within two months.
Now she wrote three days a week. She was making journeyman wages—a crown and a half a day. She had wanted to give a full crown to Lawdon and Tiffienne for every day she was allowed to write, as payment for everything they had done for her. Lawdon gruffly refused. He said that the labor he was losing from her not being in the workshop was a half-crown a day. He said she could pay him that, but he would take no more. But Mirolah knew how much it must cost him to keep and care for ten girls, only one of which was his own by birth, and Mirolah saved another half crown each day to buy things for her sisters, or food for special occasions. She tried to do it in secret, though Mirolah knew that Tiffienne must notice the extra food, the new clothes.
The last half-crown Mirolah saved for herself, for things she wanted and might want in the future. Perhaps someday she would be able to buy a little house of her own at the edge of town, where she could teach children how to read and to write.
She finished laying out the tools of her trade and turned to the first customer. The square was filling quickly today. It was going to be busy. Two caravans had arrived, and that would mean letters to read and letters to write. It was a good sign that the caravans were running regularly again.
The line had already begun. They gathered orderly and excited in front of her desk. She read letters from as far off as Semiss and Quantani. She had read letters from the kingdoms to the north: Nast, Buravar, Clete, even far-off Teni'sia. She belonged to a larger world, and when she read letters, she could feel it. Mirolah was privy to the hopes and dreams of the people all across Amarion. In her small way, she got to share those hopes and dreams.
She looked up at her first customer and smiled.
"Good morning, Genna."
"Good morning, Mira."
Genna was a tall young woman Mirolah had known since she was ten, since the day after the Sunriders had razed their home to the ground. They had fled Gildon together with a hundred other scared children and a handful of adults to guide them.
She and Genna had been close during that trek, but had been separated when they arrived in Rith. Mirolah had gone to Lawdon's house, and Genna had gone to live with Dester the miller and his wife. Mirolah had always envied Genna's beauty and that long, lustrous gold hair. It wasn't surprising that Genna found a husband so quickly.
Genna's new baby slept soundly in the sling around her neck. The last time Mirolah had seen Genna, he'd been no more than a bulge in her belly.
"He's beautiful, Genna."
She smiled shyly, quietly radiant as she looked down at the infant. "We called him Jacen, after Pacen's father."
"It's a lovely name," Mirolah said, wondering if someday she might hold her own beautiful baby.
"Thank you." Genna handed a letter to Mirolah. She opened it and read it aloud. Genna had an aunt and an uncle who were still alive, helping to rebuild Gildon, and they sent letters every now and then, telling of the slow reconstruction of the village. They sent their best wishes for the new baby.
Mirolah herself did not receive letters from Gildon. She had never had any aunts or uncles, and her grandparents had died long before she was born. The only family she'd ever known was her brother and her parents, and they were dead.
Genna thanked Mirolah again and handed her two hot cheese buns from her husband's bakery. Mirolah took them, wished Genna and the baby well before they moved off into the crowd. She greeted the next person in line and read his letter for him.
The initial rush faded around ten o'clock, at which point Mirolah traded one of the hot cheese buns to the tea vendor for a cup of spiced tea. Smiling at one another, Mirolah and the tea vendor enjoyed their breakfast.
In the midst of her meal, Mirolah felt an uneasiness descend upon her. That feeling didn't happen often, but Mirolah hated it. It felt like a thousand tiny bugs crawling on her. She rubbed the back of her neck and looked around. At the edge of the crowd by Sara Street stood a hunched old woman. Her cowl was drawn down over her face, and she muttered to herself. She hobbled from stall to stall, as if she was looking for something, but not finding it.
Then that old, wizened face turned slowly and locked gazes with her, as though sensing Mirolah's stare. She was one of the Little People!
Mirolah snapped her gaze away from the tiny woman and focused on her desk. She'd always been afraid of the Little People. None of them stood over five feet tall. They had dark gray skin and bright blue eyes, every one of them. And black hair. It was said they had been taken down from the Dragon Mountains during the Age of Ascendance to be used as slaves for the great threadweavers.
Mirolah didn't know why they didn't go back to their homes in the Dragon Mountains after the fall of the threadweaver empires. They were no longer slaves in this land, but still they stayed, roaming from city to city as gypsies. Perhaps they couldn't find a place to settle. Perhaps nobody wanted them. Mirolah herself didn't want the woman, and wished she'd go away.
She sensed the old gypsy's sharp eyes boring into her, but Mirolah refused to look up. The bugs crawled even more frantically across her neck. Even in the clamor of the busy market, Mirolah thought she could hear the gypsy's sharp little steps coming toward her.
The gypsy rapped her small, gnarled knuckles on Mirolah's desk. She looked up, smiled as best she could. The woman's eyes were shockingly blue, like the deep sky on a summer afternoon. Her many wrinkles and gray skin made her look dead. The gypsy smelled like strange spices and intestinal problems. Mirolah wanted to be anywhere but here.
"I want letter written," the old woman said in a gravelly voice. Her accent was sharp; it clipped her words off a split-second before they should have ended. The woman's mouth and teeth were red like her gums were bleeding! Mirolah recoiled.
"Do you have money?" Mirolah returned, defensive. It was rude to ask for money first, but Mirolah was hoping she might offend the old woman enough to make her go away. But the old woman didn't go away. She stared at Mirolah long and hard. Without a word, she reached into her layered robe and tossed a smooth, black stone onto the desk. It clacked loudly and slid up to Mirolah's hand. It wasn't a crown or any other coin Mirolah had ever seen. She picked it up...
The stone swirled with rainbow colors. Mirolah gasped and threw the stone down as if it had burned her. Memories of her little brother flashed through her head. The night he died. The men who killed him, calling him a threadweaver.
"What are you doing?" she asked tersely, trying to keep her voice under control. Those bright blue eyes narrowed to slits. That bloody mouth cracked into a smile.
Mirolah stood up, grabbed her pen and the sheaf of parchment, and tucked it under her arm as she began to fold her desk. The old woman's tiny hand snaked out and grabbed Mirolah's wrist.
"Let me go." She tried to pull away, but the strength in that scrawny claw was not to be believed.
The old woman jerked abruptly on her arm and Mirolah's head dipped down, close to the old woman's bloody mouth. "You write for me, or I tell everyone what you really are," the old woman growled in that gravelly voice.
Mirolah's heart beat fast, and her breath came hard. She looked to her right. The tea vendor's eyebrows were furrowed. He was prepared to come out and help Mirolah, but she shook her head.
"It's all right," she said to the tea vendor. "It's okay. Just a misunderstanding."
Mirolah put on as relaxed and easy a face as she could and pushed down the terror that threatened to overwhelm her. She unfolded the desk and put her things down, spread them out. Her arms moved as if they were made of wood, but she managed to extract a sheet of parchment and lay it flat.
"You say this," the old woman rasped. She spat out a blood-red berry and inserted another one into her mouth, chewing on it. "Sent to Reader Orem, palace at Buravar."
Reader Orem? The old woman narrowed her eyes and poked her thin finger at the desk. "You write it, girl. Do it, or I tell everyone."
Mirolah swallowed. She worked hard to stop her hands from shaking and clumsily addressed the envelope.
"Write this: Prinka find woman. Prinka want gold."
"Who did you find?" Mirolah asked.
"Write. Or I tell them." She gestured at all the vendors around her.
Mirolah wrote the words, then said, "Tell me who this is, or I'm not writing anymore."
The old woman's hand was a blur, snatching the letter and envelope from Mirolah's desk. Mirolah made a grab for them, but they disappeared within the woman's robes.
Mirolah lowered her voice. "Please... Tell me why you need this letter."
"You will find out soon. When Reader Orem comes for you."
The woman turned and disappeared into the crowd. Mirolah looked down at the polished black stone lying on the edge of her writing desk.
All she could think about was the night they murdered her brother.