Authors: C.K. Nolan
Chapter One: From Skeps Wood to Yewlith
Chapter Two: Dead Leaves and Dry Books
Chapter Three: The Book of Hortus
Chapter Five: In Quest of Keys
Chapter Six: The Mazer of Yewlith
C. K. Nolan
A map of Southernwood and more information about the world of The Mazer can be found at
Copyright © C. K. Nolan
First Kindle Edition. Published: March 2014
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval systems, copied in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise transmitted without written permission from the author at www.cknolan.com/contact.html, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law. You must not circulate this book in any format.
~~ Chapter One ~~
From Skeps Wood to Yewlith
It was that moment again; just her, Silva, eyes closed, nearly awake, her world tumbling around her, all the people, all the possessions she’d ever had, everything she’d seen, learned, thought, swept up into a vast, swirling cloud with her in its middle. She watched, her mind crystal clear, almost able to reach out and take control of it all, until the moment was snatched away, and she was left alone, lying in a cold sweat on her bed in the cabin.
She groaned, threw aside the rough blankets, got out of bed, and lit a candle. Today would be horrible. Each day was bad enough, but at least her usual routine banished her loneliness and pain. Get up; rekindle the fire; wash, dress, make her way down the coast to Quagfen; mend nets, pack fish for the market in Southernwood City, eat, drink, chat, work, eat again; come home to the cabin; write or paint or lace or sleep.
Oh, it was her birthday, too. Never an easy day. Awkward birthday wishes, a soft word remembering her mother, people lost for words when recalling her father.
“Why did you have to die on my birthday, Mother?” whispered Silva, sitting on the edge of her bed and gazing into the candlelight. “Eldis Leon, are you with Father? Can you hear me?”
The candle flickered briefly and then burned strong again. It was unbelievable that twenty years had passed since that terrible day when Mother had lost her fight against the grief that had torn her soul apart after Zossimo, her husband, Legator and Librarian of Southernwood, had disappeared, never to return. Their unborn child, a brother or sister for Silva, so hoped for and at last given, died with her. Silva and the leaders of the Session had carried her body to the sanctuary at Yewlith, to the vault that Zossimo had prepared only a few years earlier. Her name and death date were inscribed on the bark of the Great Yew that grew in the sanctuary’s courtyard. Her ceremonial cloak was hung on his branches. Then they’d returned to record her passing in the old death catalog in the Albatorium library in Southernwood, a city in mourning, as Eldis was well loved. Her husband was loved also. But for Zossimo there had been no burial, no date of death, no library record, no official end at all, only an accusation of murder against one of his apprentices, Rath.
“And where are you, Rath?” said Silva roughly. “Escaped from prison so I’m told. Running around the woods somewhere are you? Hiding? Stealing? The guard won’t take long to find you; our island’s small enough. The sooner you’re behind bars again, the better!”
She stood to open the cabin door. Across the wet sand, flecks of foam licked the black, stirring waves. The night breeze whispered against her face and neck. She liked living here on the beach; she’d look out and imagine other islands, other people, and wonder how they lived and whether they rejoiced or fought over the same things.
Lately, however, the sea had seemed more like a wall, shutting her in, turning her inland towards the trees of Skeps Wood and the city beyond. She rarely ventured into Southernwood; she’d sometimes go to market with the fish cart from Quagfen or make her way there alone to purchase supplies for her lacework and writing. It broke her heart to look across the market square to the Sundial Tree in front of the stairway leading up to the Albatorium. How often had she played around that tree as a child, checking that its yellow face had turned just as it should towards the sun, jumping in and out of its shade on a warm afternoon, waiting there for Father to return from one of his trips around the island? Above her, above everything, rose Great Aspen, bursting out of the Albatorium roof, dominating the skyline above and hiding the hills behind.
How well she knew the Albatorium! Great Aspen grew right through the middle of the building, but it had been many years since she’d talked to her old woody friend as she’d climbed up and down the stairs circling his trunk before darting around the corner steps to peek at Father addressing the Session, or creeping into the library to give the scribes and illuminators her best-behaved smile to melt their patient hearts and allow her to observe their magnificent work. Sometimes she’d offered to help stir the soup in the kitchen where she’d soak bread crusts in the hot fat bubbling to the top, burn her fingers, and then sneak out into the yard and down to the icehouse door.
The place she’d loved best was Father’s laboratory. Zossimo had never wanted to work in the Legator’s chamber at the top of the Albatorium, saying he didn’t need the trappings of political office. He’d used it only to show off some of his favorite plants and cuttings to visitors. He had been the first ruler of the island to hold also the office of Librarian, or, as her mother had liked to correct her, “Librarian and Protector of the Trees and Books of the Island and City of Southernwood.”
For Zossimo, his responsibilities as Legator and Librarian were equally important, and he firmly believed that breaking the laws of man or nature would lead to the destruction of society and the end of the trees of Southernwood. So he’d striven with all his might to rule his people with justice and goodness and generosity so that man and tree could live together in peace. The trees were no less well treated because the love Father had had for them was surely as great as the moonlit skies above the dark seas before her. The words he spoke that impressed the hearts of the Session or the ideas he presented to the people in his yearly address, these were not just clever pictures or fleshless dreams. He’d planted gardens in Southernwood City to great acclaim and had planned new parks and greenhouses for the island because his great desire was for the islanders to love the trees as much as he did. History, law, were these not written with the gifts of nature? Leaf of tree, vellum from animal skin, ink from gall, gold from the earth; the life, joys, and sufferings of mankind were all bound up in one kind of book for Zossimo, a living book composed of the fruits of his island home, with many of the chapters written by the very trees he loved so much. He’d encouraged the tuition of manuscript writers, built the papery where parchment was still made, and begun the work of cataloging the library’s archives. He’d never finished writing his
, however, detailing the life of the island’s trees. Where was that book now? Probably rotting away in some corner of the Albatorium library.
She’d been five years old when Father had begun his rule, and for fifteen years her family had lived in the apartments on the eastern side of the Albatorium by Little Lake. In the year before his disappearance, Zossimo had taken her around the island. They were accompanied by his new apprentice, Rath. Rath, yes, she’d been a young woman then, just a girl, foolish enough to fall in love with him and believe his lies before he was convicted of Father’s murder. And he’d never confessed to exactly what had happened or where Father had died.
Did the trees know? She’d asked them, of course. Who wouldn’t? But they’d kept silent. Even one of her father’s favorite trees, Isleaf, in Skeps Wood, not far away from her cabin, rarely mentioned Father.
She shivered and shut the door. She’d better get ready. The road out of the Southernwood Homesteads was pleasant enough, and even the river around First Falls had its own beauty. Heading into Westernwood, however, the land became barren, the cliff path crumbling and none too safe in a gale. Quite how she’d persuaded Winifred to accompany her, she wasn’t sure, but her trusty friend had enthusiastically agreed. Winifred had taken Mother’s place, cleaning out the old cabin and decorating the walls with pressed leaves and laced shells. She’d knitted blankets, embroidered pillowcases, and packed the larder with jams and tubs of salted meat and fish. Silva herself had sat on the beach gazing out to sea for hours and hours day after dreadful day, trying to come to terms with her loss, wondering what she would do with her life without Mother and Father to guide and support her, puzzling over Father’s disappearance, and slowly sinking into a despair so deep she could barely summon the energy to walk up the slope into Skeps Wood. There had been no question of returning to live in the Albatorium. She was certain that the Session wouldn’t have known how to cope with Eldis and Zossimo’s grieving daughter.
The candle burned low. Silva sighed. Such memories brought back that old heaviness to her heart, turning her mind into a bank of fog quite unlike the clear vision she’d perceived with the dream that had woken her several times of late, that even stole into her thoughts during the day when she was down at Quagfen standing on the quayside watching the little boats scurrying back to shore with the wind and a storm at their backs or while she was working on a net, trying out a knot, fiddling with line and stone and hook.
She dressed quickly: a long linen riding tunic, her green cloak of fine wool, leather shoes. She’d take her lacing hook and yarn, her treequill, the small box she’d prepared for Mother’s vault, and Father’s notebook. She wouldn’t dare leave that here, not that she feared burglary; there were few thieves about, but there was Rath to consider.
She paused. That was a worry, indeed. He would hardly have kept close to Southernwood City. But you could never tell. He could be hiding anywhere, even up in the woods above her. Everybody knew where she lived. All it would have taken was a careful conversation with a guard in his Albatorium cell, and Rath could have found out everything about her. He could be spying on her this very minute. He’d be perfectly aware of her journey to Yewlith to commemorate another decade without Mother. That’s what people had always done in the past for those resting in the sanctuary by the sea, but the crypt there was almost never used now. The inhabitants of Southernwood preferred to lay their dead in a newer burial garden closer to home on the road to Ashenwood where they could visit every year—every day if they so wished. Nowadays records of the dead were written on the leaves of the trees in the garden and then removed and stored in the family history archive of the Albatorium. There was one yew there, however, for those who—
The candle went out.
“Oh.” Silva closed her eyes. Hadn’t Mother always told her she thought too much? She put the box into her pocket, stuffed her belongings into a drawstring bag, and placed Father’s notebook in its leather pouch carefully on top. Then she slung the bag over her shoulder, checked the candle one last time, and stepped out onto the terrace. The wind snapped through the gap of the door as she pulled it shut, and the stringed shells she’d tied to the handle shook about madly.
“Goodbye, little cabin,” she said, patting the shells. “Keep safe!” She paced up the stony path by the side of her cabin that took her away from the beach and up to the track through the wood. The aspens shimmered and shivered above her in the strengthening breeze, but between the trees the air was musty. Isleaf was just up here. She’d named him herself, many years ago, and here he was, standing tall and straight, branches reaching towards the stars, his pale bark gleaming in welcome.
“Ah, you’ve grown again, Isleaf,” said Silva. “How beautiful you look! Have you written anything new this night?”
She bent down to pick up a handful of fallen leaves, each bearing Isleaf’s spidery writing, each saying the same thing:
“Our wood is hot, the air is thick,
the ground aglow, the roots a-lit.
They reek and fume and grow,
but what lives there, we do not know.”
Oh dear! Isleaf must be worried; he wasn’t usually given to complaining about anything.