Welcome back to Adia (finally!). It’s time to check in with Tovi, Ganya, Silas, and many others, including my very favorite character and new resident of Adia (as of the last few chapters of Book 1): Eryx.
This week I’ve been sharing these chapters AND ways you can support the book launch (thank you!!). Today’s request: Today and in the days to come, it would be a huge help if you liked and commented on my posts about the book (and other people’s posts if you see them!). The all-knowing algorithm sees it all, and every little like boosts the likelihood that others will see those posts. And while you’re at it, have you liked my Author page on Facebook yet? Search for AuthorMaggiePlatt, and you’ll find me. That’s where I post most of my book-related news.
(P.S. Today is also a VERY important day… My oldest niece is TEN years old! She made me an auntie a DECADE ago! Love that girl with all my heart.)
Queen of the Wild Range, Chapter 3
Mallets pounding wooden pegs into boards and tree trunks woke Tovi out of a deep sleep. She frowned before opening her eyes. She turned over, burrowing beneath her pillow to block out the noise and the light. Her movements made her body ache all over, and the pain brought the events of the past few days racing through her mind. A dungeon cell. A knife. Running for her life. Silas losing his.
She could see the swords slicing through his body. She could feel the pain from her own wounds and see the red, pinched faces of the guards. She was right back in that moment, devastated by his death, giving in to the darkness and pain.
Another crash of the hammer brought her back home, and she sat straight up in bed. She looked around her room, calmed by the sight of vines in the windows and willow leaves beyond.
Home. She was home. She was weak, but recovering.
And Silas was very much alive. He was probably up in his studio, paint speckled on his skin. She took a deep breath and stretched, and the muscles of her legs cried out for a good run. She wanted to feel the wind in her hair and the earth beneath her feet. She wanted to breathe and feel life in her lungs. She hadn’t run to the Ridge since before her dark adventure on the mountain. It was time to return to her paths. Her lips curled into a sleepy smile at the thought.
She left the treetop cottage as quietly as she could. She didn’t want to disturb Ganya so early in the morning, although the pounding nearby had probably done the job already. Regardless, she wanted to run, and she didn’t want anyone to stop her, even if she knew she should rest her exhausted body another day.
As soon as she stepped outside, motion in a nearby tree caught her eye. The pounding came from a brand-new platform taking shape, perched in a tree just two trunks over.
Eryx’s hulking silhouette was dark against the rising sun as he bent over his work. Tovi’s cousin, Gil, and his wife, Diza, were showing Eryx how to secure the boards properly.
Eryx paused with the mallet in midair and looked up at Tovi. Gil and Diza looked, too. Eryx turned to fumble with his toolbox, and Tovi took that as her cue to leave. Eryx hadn’t said a single word to her since their arrival in Adia, and she accepted his coldness as an invitation to stay far away. She waved at Gil and Diza before moving along.
She climbed gingerly down a weathered rope ladder, each knot and foothold so familiar that she didn’t need to look. She landed with a little squish in the mud at the bottom. The waters were certainly rising.
She took off at a slow trot. Her knees and lungs begged her to stop, and she could feel her pulse in the scar on her hand where Damien had tried to cut away the brown heart. Her ribs protested with each deep inhale.
She only stopped when the world tilted sideways and she thought she would tip over. When the dizzy spell dissipated, she pushed on, this time walking. She didn’t mind the slow pace. She looked at the trees and the grass and the sparkling bits of escaped sunshine with a new gratitude. What had she been thinking, leaving this place?
When she came to the spot where the trees parted and opened to the ridge and the view of Mount Damien, she paused. A rock-like feeling plummeted into her stomach. It was just a mountain. She never had to go above the cloud again. So why did she feel such fear?
She took a seat with her mud-splattered legs over the edge, and she wasn’t surprised when Silas sauntered through the leaves and sat beside her. They both looked out into the distance. The cloud that concealed the city on the mountain floated in slow circles. She pictured the cobblestone streets and the tall, stone buildings with their iron balconies. She thought about the swinging green sign in the Bottom Rung and the dazzling window displays in the Halo.
She shook her head and looked around her. This rock ledge, the trees, the flowers growing all around—these were her reality. She closed her eyes, breathed deeply, and smiled.
“You weren’t ready to run,” Silas said.
“I figured that out about two paces in.” Tovi leaned back on her elbows, squinting toward the sun. “You know, I thought Tali would be home if I ever made it back to Adia. In all of my daydreams of coming home, he was always here.”
“I have work for him to do.”
“When will you have work for me? I’m ready to do whatever you say. I’ll do anything to fight back, to outsmart Damien. I’m ready.”
Silas considered her for a long moment, his expression indecipherable. “Just like you weren’t ready to run, you aren’t ready for the type of tasks that you are imagining. Grand adventures, exploration, and even some battles are in your future. But not yet.”
“When?” she prodded.
“That is up to you and how willing you are to learn. And between you and me, you’ve never made the learning process easy on yourself.”
She scowled. “So, what do I need to learn? What do I need to do?”
Silas hopped to his feet and held a hand out to help Tovi. “Come with me.” They walked a few minutes into the woods and came out in a clearing familiar to Tovi. A huge tree covered in vines and yellow flowers stood in the middle, and butterflies glided around it. Tovi thought about the last time she was here, sitting in the tree with Calix before she knew who he really was. The hot, uncomfortable feeling of shame rose in her throat, nearly choking her, and she couldn’t look Silas in the eye.
Silas put his arm around her. “That is a topic for another day. I brought you here to see these.” He turned her around. There on the edge of the clearing was a cascading strawberry bush, so thick that the vines created a wall. There were many bright red berries and a few that were unripe and whitish green. The rest of the vines were covered in delicate, pink flowers with fluffy, yellow centers. Each petal was so intricate, dark pink in the center and lightening to almost white on the edges. She brushed her fingers across a few before plucking a ripe berry and biting off the end.
Silas touched one of the pink blossoms. “There are several things this flower needs before it becomes a berry. Sun, water, nourishment, time. You cannot rush the ripening. You are like these flowers, Tovi. You are beautiful and bright, but you aren’t ready. You’re not who you are meant to be. You need to grow, weather some storms, and draw strength from my words. And mostly, you need time. Time to heal and think and flourish.”
Tovi flicked one of the white berries. “Otherwise, I’ll be good for nothing, like a berry picked before it is ripe.”
“You’re getting it.” Silas grinned. “We’re going to work on it, little by little. Every day. We have to take each of those lessons you learned on the mountain and do what we can to undo them.”
“And then you’ll send me?”
“Why do I feel like I am ready now? I want to go. I want to do something. Anything.”
“What is it that you think you are ready to do?”
She scowled. “I’ve already told you. Fight back. Beat Damien.”
“What if that’s not my intention for you right now?”
The words were deflating.
“You are eager, and you want to get to work. But you must wait for your own sake and for others. You have to learn to do what I say, even when you don’t like it. I promise, it’s always better that way. Right now, I do not need you to outwit Damien. I don’t need you to strategize, plot, or plan. I don’t need you to fight. I want you to stay, learn, be still.”
Tovi’s lip curled like she had smelled something terrible. “Stay? Be still?”
“And learn. That may be the most important part.”
She picked an unripe berry and threw it as far as she could into the trees with a growl.
With a half-smile, half-grimace, Silas said, “Whether or not it is easy is up to you. I don’t regret giving you a mind of your own, but it does cause some…difficulties. But when you’re ready, when you’ve grown into more of who I made you to be, it will be a little easier to do what I say without argument.”
“More of who you made me to be?” She held a fistful of her hair for him to see. “I have your colors now. You took my marks. What else has to change?”
“Your colors and marks are a good start, but there is much to do on the inside.”
“When will I be ready? And how will I know?”
“You will know you are ready when I send you. As for timing, my best guess is that you will be ready by Low Tidings. Until then, I want you to stay put.”
“Low Tidings?” she cried, hands on her hips. Low Tidings was a holiday celebrated up in the trees. Every few years, floodwaters would rise, and water would rush over the edge of the ridge, isolating Adia from all the lands to the east until the river calmed. It could be weeks or months before the waters receded and she heard the cries of “Low Tidings!” shouted from each treehouse. Must she wait that long to join her brother? Must she wait that long to take part in Silas’ grand plan?
“Please, Silas. Please give me something to do. And if not, please bring Tali home before the flood. I beg you.”
Silas put an arm around Tovi’s shoulder and drew her closer into his side. “I’ll see what I can do.”