Chapter One ~ Detainers
“Oh, mother of all demons!” Idi cursed as he swayed on the wet, moss-covered stepping stone.
This was the furthest from the village he’d ever been. Just maybe, today, he would escape this wretched life of a despised orphan.
The snowmelt flowed into the fast-moving rapids below, hurtling downstream. The stone Idi stood on shook under its power; his cold, dirty feet curled tightly over the slimy surface. Knees bent, arms outstretched in order to steady himself, he shook his head, flicking his long, greasy hair out of his face. He daren’t for a moment take his eyes off it.
On the other side of the river, blocking his way was an enormous crow. It was about the same size as the huge wolves he’d spotted stalking the forest recently. The bird’s claws scratched at the river bank, whilst its beady black eyes focused on Idi intently. If Idi hadn’t have been concentrating so hard on where to step next, he might have noticed the huge bird arrive.
Looking past the crow to the mountains, teasingly close behind, Idi ground his teeth. It isn’t fair. I need to get out of this cursed valley.
The creature, as if sensing Idi’s sudden desire to make a dash for it, threw open its huge black wings and squawked with piercing menace. Idi wobbled in fright, and as he did his foot slipped, thin arms flailed manically for a moment, and he toppled forward into the rapids.
The crow stopped its flapping and squawking and seemed worried, squinting eyes at the water where Idi had fallen. The boy was nowhere to be seen. The blackbird hopped out onto the first stepping-stone and then another until it was where Idi stood seconds before.
The bird stretched itself upwards, straining its neck to peer down the river to where something seemed to be bobbing in the water.
Idi was caught in the icy, fast flowing current, his body crashing violently between rocks and driftwood. His lungs hurt as he fought to get his head above water, sucking in air before being dragged under once more.
The crow circled for a while and then cawed shrilly as it flew off into the woods in a flurry.
The white, frothy waters swirled around his body. Relaxing, Idi resigned to the fact he was going to die. He stopped fighting for air and simply allowed himself to be swept along. After a while of being pummelled and bumped, he found himself floating just under the surface. Calm descended, and he opened his eyes, seeing clearly through the bubbling crystal waters to the sky beyond.
Ma Rose will be looking for me by now. She’d give me a right clip around the ear for being late and for not having all me chores done. I won’t miss that. I won’t miss anything about me life. If I can’t leave this damn valley any other way – then river take me.
Just then, something caught his attention in the sky above. It looked a bit like a huge white bird. What is it with giant birds today? As Idi’s eyes closed, he drifted into unconsciousness.
Idi eyes flickered, heavy as he tried to open them. For a moment, he felt as if he was floating, and then was able to focus on the large bird above him, and that the fact that he was securely wrapped in the creature’s claws as it flew.
Too dazed to be afraid, Idi was dropped carefully on the grass. The large bird that had been flying with him now seemed to be talking with that monstrous crow from earlier. The white bird’s wings seemed to disappear, and suddenly a lady’s smiling face was in front of him. A gentle hand stroked his forehead.
I must be dead.
Sometime later Idi yawned and stretched; he felt good like he’d had the best night’s sleep ever. He opened his eyes and saw the sky above him instead of the attic roof; he reached out to his sides, in alarm, feeling for his bed. Grass and not a mattress was what his hands touched, and he sat up in surprise. He stared at the village in front of him.
Hell’s bells how did I get here and what am I doing in this soddin’ field?
He stood up and turned to look at the stretch of land behind him, taking in the farmlands, then forests, that lay before him and the mountain range far away. It had taken half a day to reach the river, how had he got back to the village when the sun was still in the sky?
“Did I dream it all?” he said, shuddering. It hadn’t felt like a dream, yet somehow he was back in this nightmare of a place.
In the distance, out of sight, Oleanna stood in the shadows of the trees. Kerwin, her tamed giant crow, stood next to her. She reached out and gently stroked his neck and watched Idi making his way back to the village. The crow cocked his head to one side and caw-cawed quietly.
“Yes, I know he will be thirteen soon, and when he is it will be time for him to leave.”