Welcome to the fifteenth stop in the #exploreleira blog tour where we’re celebrating the (almost) one year book birthday for Songkeeper! It is the second book in the Songkeeper Chronicles, which tells the story of a girl who can hear the song that created the world.
If this is your first encounter with the blog tour, we are continuing a series of alphabet posts looking at the world and characters and magical creatures of the Songkeeper Chronicles … and we have an awesome giveaway that you can enter below! You can find a list of the stops and dates here: #exploreleira tour. (Links will be updated once each post becomes live.)
Today, we’re looking at the letter …
O is for Outlaws
“This cavern used to the hideout of a band of outlaws led by Hawkness. Did you know that? My father told me about them, about him. Back then, Hawkness was the only one strong enough to stand against the Takhran and his soldiers. They were brave men, those outlaws, all of them heroes, who fought against tyranny and died because of it.”
Long before Orphan’s Song began, a band of outlaws roamed the wild places of Leira at the heels of a mighty Songkeeper named Artair. They were the dregs of society. The weak. The outcast. The bristly. The unwanted.
Many left no homes behind, and yet where Artair was, they were at home, because home and hearth meant nothing save in his presence.
It is hard to describe the Songkeeper Artair to one who has not met him. He did not have the charismatic allure of the Takhran. He was neither kingly, nor princely, and would have looked out of place in a grand palace or great hall.
He was a man of the earth.
In his eyes, one saw the richness of freshly tilled soil and the peeled bark of a zoar tree. His hands bore the ridges and callouses of hard labor. Weathered lines splayed from his eyes like the rays of the sun glancing off a pool. In his laugh, the voice of a thousand rivers rolled into one.
At first glance, he did not command attention. At second glance, one could not look away. He had a sort of presence about him. Something that hummed with power and being, so much so that those who walked at his side for any length of time, even if they did not bear the blood of Songlings and Songkeepers, could almost hear the Song.
Those who joined the outlaw band came for many different reasons, but they all stayed for the same one. They stayed for Artair. They braved the Takhran’s wrath, evaded his raven spies, dodged his hounds, and led the Khelari off the scent, all that they might spend one more day at Artair’s side. Watching as he sang to heal the sick and injured, listening to the vast beauty of the Song that spilled from his lips, and waiting for evening to fall that they might sit around the fireside and listen to his tales. And such tales they were. The sort of tales that seep into your bones and remake you from the inside out. The sort that scrape you raw, even as they fill you with a courage and a purpose you never before knew. The sort that ring with the echo of something you thought you once knew, but you can’t quite place your finger upon …
With Artair at their head, the outlaws were a fearsome and free band. Fearsome in their freedom. For they dared to live and to love and to laugh in a world that was broken beneath the horrors unleashed by the Takhran. Numbered among the outlaws were Nisus and Jirkar, the dwarf twins from the Whyndburg Mountains, a swordsmith by trade named Lucas Peregrine from Kerby, Dalton who later owned the Sylvan Swan, a young farm boy named Oran Hamner, and the one known as Hawkness.
Hawkness wasn’t his true name, of course. The title was given to him for his notorious skill with ranged weapons, such as throwing knives, daggers, bows and arrows, etc., when Artair made him second in command.
Over time, the fame of the outlaw band and of Artair the Songkeeper spread, and the Takhran’s hatred grew, and he bided his time, waiting for the Khelari to succeed in capturing one of the outlaws. Until at last, the farm boy, Oran, strayed heedless into their net. It was a midsummer’s days when the soldiers dragged their struggling prisoner down the lightless tunnels beneath Mount Eiphyr and into the bowels of the Pit.
Who knows what lies the Takhran whispered to him in the dark, or with what twisted words the heart of Oran was lost and his melody ever corrupted. But when he emerged at last into the lurid light of day, it was to lead a contingent of Khelari along secret paths through the mountains to the outlaw camp at Drengreth.
They struck in the hazy stillness of night.
No songs are sung of the battle at Drengreth. No tales are told of valor or heroic deeds. It remembered only in silence. Recalled in horror and swiftly banished from thought.
For when the bows ceased singing and the flames dwindled and the last echoes of the crash of sword on sword vanished in the hills, only the bodies of the slain remained. Hawkness stood alone in the midst of a massacre. The survivors—what few remained—had fled. And the Songkeeper Artair was lost, taken by the Khelari into the depths of the earth.
I can tell you little of Hawkness’s pursuit, for little is known. He alone trailed the Khelari into the Takhran’s fortress. He alone wandered the deep dark in pursuit of the Songkeeper Artair. But beyond that, the truth of what transpired in the Pit, none save the Takhran’s servants and Hawkness himself know.
And when Hawkness reappeared in Kerby some months later, to rendezvous with the remnants of the outlaw band, he would not say. But he vowed vengeance against the Takhran, and in the strength of his oath, he bound the outlaws into a brotherhood sworn to fight until their dying breath. Beneath the cobbled streets of Kerby, in a network of caverns and tunnels, they made their home. And the light and life and hope that the outlaw band had known when they followed Artair along song-strewn paths in the mountains and woodlands were soon lost in the grime and squalor and hopelessness of the city where their vengeance had driven them.
Ky’s eyes gleamed in the moonlight. “You’re a legend. A hero.”
The lad’s words pierced his conscience like a poisoned shaft. “Never a hero, lad. For twelve years, we warred, fought, lied, stole, cheated, ’til our cause was lost in the horror o’ who we’d become an’ our own people grew t’ hate us.”
Until the outlaws too were lost and had become only a matter of legend and myth and fireside tales.
Outlaw tales are fascinating, aren’t they? I grew up on tales of Robin Hood and his merry men, William Wallace, and Alan Breck Stewart. Do you have a favorite outlaw tale?
Want to find out more about the outlaws? Check out the links below to purchase the books:
And before you leave, don’t forget to enter the giveaway! One lucky winner will take home a copy of Orphan’s Song, Songkeeper, and a gorgeous handmade mug. Two lucky winners will take home copies of Songkeeper! Open to international entries. Enter through the Rafflecopter below and be sure to continue following the blog tour. You can earn new entries for each post that you visit along the way. Winners will be announced after April 15th.