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About the Book The Stones of Home By Rowan Oliver Ward Utting
After a century and a half of isolation, the surviving Mages of Haven reunite to combat a rising power. Their journey and their fight for freedom leads them through many skirmishes and adventures, to confront an old rivalry between their allies, whom they must unite to defeat their common enemy.The Stones of Home is a bardic tale of magic and dragons, of love and pain, of epic battles and loss, and touches the very heart of what it is to be human.Bardic, Rowan Utting’s work is poetic, narrative, mythic, reflective and musical. Along with the language, ‘Alamard’ , The Stones of Home s the author’s graphic working notes, embedded songs, music, lexicon and grammar. Suitability: 12+ (contains violence) Young adult+ Not a novel about youth: it explores the lives and emotions of people with magical powers, their place in different societies and the constant war waged by other creatures. The Stones of Home is epic in scope and set in contemporary Scotland and Ireland. It is literary, humorous, poignant, violent, philosophical and memorable.
A Visit from the Past
Up in the Scottish Highlands, amongst the craggy tors, animals eked out a living on the sparse vegetation. In such a deserted place, they were safe, but it was wise to be constantly alert nevertheless. A deer lowered its head to graze on the heather, looking around warily. Besides the trickle of the river, there wasn’t much to be heard. Its ear twitched as it heard the crunch of gravel. There wasn’t anything up here that could easily injure it, but it paid to be cautious. It was a solitary buck, away from the herd of does that it had guarded earlier in the year. Suddenly, a shot ricocheted around the valley, and the successful hunter forded the river and claimed his kill. Up here on the peaks, a single deer could feed a man for the best part of winter at a pinch.
The valley, carved out along the side of a larger peak of the chain, was sparsely populated with tussocks. Near the top of the peak, on the side protected from the wind, was a small wooden hut. The door was covered with subtle but intricate carvings, which had been mostly eroded by the unrelenting weather. Grey from wind and time, the planks of the hut sealed a tranquil chamber of air away from the harsh wind and snow.
Currently, that air was full of smoke; the tall, grey-haired hunter had dragged the deer carcass up to the hut, skinned it, gutted it, and was smoking the majority of it over a small fire. The organs were in a pot, bubbling into stew. The small hut was only two rooms; this one contained dried meat hanging from the ceiling, and small wooden ornaments on shelves all around the walls. The door to the other room was only half-open, but a bookshelf with tomes and rolls of ancient-looking parchments was visible.
“Nice place you’ve got here,” said a Welsh accent from the corner of the hut.
“What? Who said that? Show yourself!” growled the old hunter in his gravelly Scottish voice, spinning around with his knife in hand, and glaring with his green eyes at this intruder.
“Whoa, take it easy there! I’m unarmed!” replied the visitor, stepping out of the shadows. A large pack sat on the floor beside him, leaning against his leg. He was a tall young man, with blond hair, reddish stubble on his face, and piercing blue eyes.
The old man put his knife down, and stated gruffly, “You have no business here. Get out o’ my hut before I gut you like this here deer.”
“Calm down! I was hiking and lost my way. I saw this hut and was hoping to stay the night.”
“Haven’t you got a tent in that fancy backpack o’ yours?” asked the old man, turning his attention back to the fire.
“Even if I did, where would I pitch it? All the ground around here is either too steep, or in the direct path of the wind.”
“Very well, then. You can stay, but whatever supplies you have in that there pack, you must hand over. I can’t feed two people for very long with one deer, and they’ve all retreated to the lower ranges. It’d take three to feed two people for the whole winter, at the very least,” said the old man. He turned to the hiker, but suddenly his own rifle was being pointed at him.
“I think you’re a little too uppity to be just a mountain hermit,” snarled the young man, cocking the rifle. “Who are you really, old man?”
The grizzled man of the outdoors sighed. He cupped his palms, and said, “I really wish people would stop doing this. All I want is some peace.”
He splayed his hand, and as if by magic, the door flew open, stunning the young man and knocking the rifle from his grasp. The old man flexed his fingers, and the young man rose into the air.
“Aargh. That hurts…” moaned the young man, suspended in mid-air. He was bleeding from a gash on his head, and his blond hair was turning brown as the blood clotted, matting his hair together.
“Well, maybe it’d pay off to not threaten me with my own gun!” muttered the old man, doing some complex dance with his fingers. Golden and blue light would occasionally flash from between his knuckles.
“Hah. Why bother with a gun, though, if your magic is that advanced? Surely, hunting deer should be easy with those skills!” said the young man, his voice cruelly derisive and sarcastic.
“Mind your mouth, boy, ere I set you ablaze,” growled the old man, now with green light flowing over his fingers as he prepared a spell of banishment.
“See what I mean? You could roast deer and carry them here from the bottom of the mountain without leaving your hut! Surely the Mage of Solitude, Bolhovangr, would not use a range weapon designed by humans?” stated the young man, eyeing the sparks on Bolhov’s palms warily.
Bolhov jumped at hearing his name uttered, and at the memories that flooded back to him along with it, and hissed angrily, “I have my reasons for what I do! Who are you, to question one of the Seventeen of Haven?”
“The Irish Haven was disbanded in 1862; I would’ve thought that even you would know by now. Anyway, is your magic so rusty that you can’t even recognise a simple cloaking spell?”
The ‘young man’ started revolving in midair, and yellow light surrounded him. When the light faded, before Bolhov stood a man with wavy shoulder-length black hair and a short beard. Unlike Bolhov, who was dressed in ragged brown and grey clothing, this Mage was wearing loose but tidy informal black clothing. With his T-shirt no longer covering his forearms, scars and tattoos now seemed to be twisted along his arms from the elbows to his wrists.
“And one of the Seventeen ought to be able to recognise another,” said the man in black, his rich voice booming through the old grey hut.
“Well, in my defence, you are the Mage of Secrecy, Aegradin. I thought you had died, but it seems not. How long ago was Haven disbanded?” queried Bolhov, turning his attention back to the stew and the drying meat.
“150 years or so—and disbanded isn’t exactly the right word for it. The vampires and werewolves started a war on the streets; Haven tried to maintain peace, but only eight of the Seventeen were there. The rest of us were elsewhere; but now, there’s only five of us left: you, me, and the Mages of Flight, Trickery and Stone.”
Bolhovangr paused, taking all of this in. His eyebrows furrowed, and he said, “Surely there’s more than five of the Seventeen still alive. What about the other four, who weren’t at Haven at the time?”
“Bad news. Mind-Control, Pain, Ocean and Transformation have joined with Futhuulkor, who is one of the most powerful Mages in history and also nearly killed me back in 1842.”
“Pain? Who’s that?” asked Bolhov.
“You know old Andeitlan, Healing Mage? He’s Reversed his magic.” Aegr shuddered, and started pacing.
“Stew?” grunted Bolhov, proffering a bowl as he pondered everything he had just heard.
“Oh yes. Thanks,” said Aegr, taking the bowl and eating its contents. He and Bolhov dined in silence, watching the sun sink below the horizon as the last light receded to the edge of the sky.
The next morning, Aegr rose from his slumber to find the hut empty. He closed his eyes, crossed his arms and ran his fingers along the coloured scars on his forearms, drawing up their magic. He cast his mind out, distancing himself from his physical body, and sought the presence of other living objects within his vicinity. He felt Bolhov’s tracemind on an outcrop about 15 minutes’ walk away from the hut. Aegr fixated his mind on the colour of Bolhov’s presence—not difficult, as the only other life up here in the peaks was the occasional deer, and some rodents. Plants were harder to sense, but a general aura of slight vegetation surrounded the area. He set off in pursuit of the Mage of Solitude.
When he reached the outcrop, Aegr approached Bolhov carefully, just in case he was in a trance and woke up suddenly. He walked to Bolhov and circled around him. Aegr tapped him on the shoulder, and stepped back.
“What? What’s happening!” Bolhov demanded, as he woke from his trance. “Oh, it’s you. Why’d you wake me?”
“I’d like to ask a favour of you,” said Aegr, quietly.
“Aye, what is it?” replied Bolhov.
“Would you mind if the other three came to your hut? We need to plan a way to take down our enemy, and I haven’t seen two of them in a while; Suahi and I live together, but—rather like yourself, I suppose—the others prefer to be alone.”
“Oh, sure. Go ahead. There might not be enough space, though…”
“Don’t worry about that,” said Aegr. “We’ve got the Mage of Stone, remember? Cragillahan? He can shift rock and earth; I’m sure we can get him to make a nice space underground. And, of course, with me and Trickery, nobody will be able to find out about it.” Aegr spoke these words with a strong sense of pride, as if he was absolutely certain that his and another Mage’s skills combined could avoid detection.
“Trickery… I recall a woman, I think. Who is she?” asked Bolhov.
“Suahikaien. She’s short, has freckles, black hair, purple eyes, and an Irish voice.” Aegr smiled fondly as he described her.
“Ah yes—you always were sweet on her, weren’t you?” Bolhov teased Aegr with a chuckle, a lopsided grin appearing on his rough, stubbly face.
“Yes, rather. Working together, our magic seems to bond; our styles are similar. Do you know the Flight Mage?” Aegr asked Bolhov.
“Can’t say I do… I’ve forgotten many people.” Bolhov absentmindedly picked up a rock and spun it in his fingers, tossing it in the air distractedly. Green light covered it, swarming through the streaks and veins that criscrossed it, holding it in the air a little longer than gravity would normally allow.
“She’s got blue eyes and brown hair, streaked with bluish-white. English, like Cragill.” Aegr paused. “She uses a sword all the time, too—a beautiful and keen blade.”
“Oh yeah. I remember her. Tsigaltau?” Bolhov threw the rock up in the air, trailing streams of purple light.
“That’s the one. I’m sorry about yesterday, by the way; I had to be sure it was you.”
“Ah, think nothing of it. I’m a suspicious character.” Bolhov turned. “When are the others going to arrive?”
Aegr looked at his watch, and said, “Oh, about two hours. I contacted them earlier.”
“Good. I’ve been missing the feeling of magic flowing through the air.”