About the Author
For Joey & Jennifer. May your lives be full of travels.
Copyright © 2017 Christopher D. Morgan
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. No actual person or event is depicted.
No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereafter invented, without the express permission of the author except for use of brief quotations in book reviews.
This novel has been written using British English spelling and conventions.
A Portallas short story
Christopher D. Morgan
Sarah’s Farewell is a Portallas short story that tells some of the backstory about one of the main characters from the Portallas series of books. Sarah is a young Fixer, someone who makes and mends things, from the northern town of Jemarrah in the magical world of Forestium. We first meet Sarah in Forestium: The Mirror Never Lies, which is book one in the Portallas series.
In Forestium, Sarah is befriended by Joshua, a young Woodsman from a distant village who has set off on a journey to find the truth about his father. Sarah herself is travelling the land on a journey of discovery—a sort of modern day gap year. In Sarah’s Farewell, we discover how it came to be that she has embarked on her journey.
Sarah found a quiet spot out of sight and sat to watch the Elder as he continued with the training session with this latest group of young hopefuls. She knew already she was better than any of them but would never say so publicly.
“One of the first skills you’ll be tested on will be your aim,” the Elder called out in a commanding voice. The stern man eyed them each in turn. None of the young men spoke as he walked up and down the line. Standing tall with broad shoulders, the Elder was not known for his patience. They all avoided making eye contact.
“You!” he said suddenly, pointing at one of the sixteen year olds. The young man flinched before looking left then right. He slowly pointed to himself, his face turning a distinct shade of green. The Elder thrust his slingshot into the would-be Woodsman’s chest with such force it nearly knocked the poor lad over.
“Yes, you! Step forward. Don’t be shy! I’ve already eaten this morning. Do you see that Yucust tree over there? Take this Bramock berry and see if you can hit that Finkle nest hanging from the third branch!”
The Elder handed over a red berry. The young man reached out a shaky hand to take it. He fumbled to load the palm-sized fruit into the slingshot pouch and shuffled himself forward. Raising his arm, he pulled the pouch back and took aim. Taking a deep breath to steady himself, he composed himself for a couple of nervous seconds before releasing the pouch. SWOOSH! It sent the berry flying through the air. Everyone’s eyes followed it across the glade. It fell short of the target, barely even reaching the foot of the tree. The young man’s shoulders sank and he let out a sigh. Several of the others sniggered involuntarily. They all wiped the smirks off their faces when the Elder turned to glare at them.
“The trials are just a few short weeks away!” The Elder shouted. “Some of you,” he said, casting a reproving eye at the now sullen-looking young man still standing in front of the rest, “are clearly not yet ready. How do you expect to be able to tackle a fully-grown Wood-boar in the night if you can’t even hit a Finkle nest in broad daylight?”
The Elder walked off, shaking his head and tutting. One by one, the entire line of young men followed him.
Sarah waited for them all to leave the clearing before getting up. She unhooked her slingshot and rummaged for another ripe Bramock berry. Standing where the previous would-be Woodsman stood, she raised her arm and took aim at the same Finkle nest. In an effortless and swift motion, she released the loaded pouch, which sent its payload soaring through the glade towards the nest. It struck the target dead on, causing a swarm of Finkle flies to take to the air around the nest, which was now swaying back and forth. Sarah afforded herself a slight smile and followed the would-be Woodsmen back towards her home village of Jemarrah.
By midafternoon, Jemarrah was a bustling hive of activity. Despite being the northernmost town in all of Forestium, it had become a melting pot of people from all over. On any given day, Sarah saw the uniforms of a dozen or more different tribes from across the land.
Traders pushed carts loaded with their wares up and down the streets. Kids chased each other back and forth. Sunlight streamed through the treetop canopy to reach the ground like brilliant shards of dancing crystals. The ever-present mist drifted on a gentle breeze between the trees and buildings.
Whilst the trainees all licked their wounds and made their way back to the Elder’s hut for what would undoubtedly be more stern pep-talking, Sarah made her way to Isabelle’s hut. She found her adopted older sister there preparing a fresh batch of dried Shrooms in the small kitchen.
“Is that what’s for dinner, then?” Sarah asked. She picked up a Shroom slither and slipped it into her mouth whilst Isabelle’s back was turned.
“I saw that!” Isabelle said. “Where have you been all morning, anyway?”
“Oh, just checking to see how well Jemarrah’s future Woodsmen are doing.”
“Really? I thought that latest batch completed their trials already?”
“No. It’s not for another couple of weeks for this lot, although something tells me another couple of months isn’t going to make much of a difference to this sorry-looking bunch.”
“Struggling, are they?”
“Um, you could say that. Honestly, some of them couldn’t hit a Wood-boar at ten paces.”
“But you could. I don’t think there’s ever been anyone that could handle a slingshot as well as you. Really, Sarah, I don’t know why you aren’t going up for the trials yourself. You’re ten times better than any Woodsman Jemarrah has ever seen and you can certainly take care of yourself out in the Forests. It doesn’t hurt that your father is the village Elder, either.”
Isabelle stopped what she was doing and looked up at Sarah. She sighed and said, “Why do you want to be a Fixer? Jemarrah has plenty of Fixers already.”
“Let’s not start that again. You know it’s all I’ve ever wanted to be in life. Besides, someone has to look out for these Woodsmen and keep the town going.”
“Yes, yes, I know. There’s no denying that you’re a natural born Fixer…but Sarah.” Isabelle huffed, her hands on her hips. “Three months? You could be gone for over three months, perhaps even longer. It’s easy for you. You’ll be off, traipsing around the forests, learning new skills and no doubt having lots of fun.”
“Aha. I can’t wait.”
“Forestium is a dangerous place. What if something happened to you?”
“I’ll be fine. Besides, you just said it yourself. I’m more than capable of looking after myself.”
Isabelle’s shoulders sank. “Look, I just don’t like the idea of saying goodbye to you, that’s all.”
“I won’t be gone forever. I am planning on coming back, you know.”
“Why do Fixers have to go off and find themselves, or whatever it is you all do when you reach the age of decision?”
“Isabelle, honestly. How many times have we had this discussion? It’s always been this way. Besides, I’m looking forward to learning new skills and new experiences.” Sarah glanced up at her sister and paused. “I…might,” she said with a slight wince, “I might even try my hand at, um, you know, catching a Wood-boar.” She sped up the last part of that sentence and attempted to feign disinterest.
Isabelle’s hands sank to the table with a thud, as she glared at Sarah through raised eyebrows. “Really!? Now you’re telling me you’re going to be hunting Wood-boars on top of everything else? Honestly, Sarah, it’s a wonder that you’ll come back alive at all. Wood-boars indeed! Well, I suppose it could be worse.”
“What do you mean?” Sarah said with a chuckle.
“Well, I’m sure you’ll meet lots of new people along the way. It’ll be my luck that you’ll find someone new and then you’ll be off forever to some far-flung corner of Forestium and I’ll never see you again. Then what’ll I do? Have you even considered how this is going to affect your big sister?”
Sarah laughed. “Don’t worry. If I do meet someone, I’ll be sure to bring them here to get your seal of approval first. Besides, I’m not looking for love: that’s your department.”
“Huh! I wish!”
“Still, it would be a happy bonus if I did find someone, I suppose. You’ll have to agree that picking here in Jemarrah aren’t that great after all.”
Just then, there was a commotion outside. Sarah glanced out the window to see what it was. She saw several Warriors run past.
“What’s happening?” Isabelle asked.
“I’m not sure. Let me take a look.” With that, Sarah left the hut to go investigate.
Outside the hut, Sarah saw several warriors running towards the town centre. Her curiosity getting the better of her, she followed them.
Although Jemarrah was home to only around five thousand inhabitants, it always felt like there were more people here. With all the traders coming and going, there might be as many as seven thousand people here at any one time.
Keeping a discrete distance, Sarah followed the four warriors as they snaked around the rickety huts and other wooden buildings set in amongst the forest. Even when they were out of sight it was easy to track them by the sound of the partially frozen leaf litter crunching beneath their feet. Sarah could see her breath fogging up in the cool air each time she exhaled.
Although most buildings in Forestium were self-standing and made from forest materials, like logs, bark, moss, etc., many here in Jemarrah were built around the trees themselves. The tall, thin Ashfer trees that grow densely here make for excellent structural supports. It wasn’t uncommon to see branches tied together between trees to form the hut walls. Barely tall enough to stand up in and with gentle sloping roofs made from thick leaves and covered with layers of moss, many of the huts blended naturally into the environment. Some huts were so overgrown with vines that they scarcely looked like they were constructed to begin with.
When they reached the Elder’s hut, Sarah watched the warriors enter and close the door behind them. Shortly thereafter, all the trainee Woodsmen were ushered out, the last closing the door behind him.
There was an unusual tension about the place with people standing around, wondering what the warriors were briefing the Elder about. Even though she was the Elder’s daughter, Sarah sensed now was not the time to bother her father.
It wasn’t long before her curiosity became overwhelming. She snuck up to the side of the hut and listened at the window.
Two of the warriors were talking to the Elder. Although it was all a bit indistinct, she heard a few words. Valley of Moross; total devastation; he’s on the move again. It sounded serious, whatever it was, but none of it made any sense.
Sarah was startled by the front door opening. She crouched and froze. One-by-one, the warriors all left. Sarah waited for them to walk out of sight before creeping around to the front door. She reached to knock but hesitated.
“Come in, little one!”
Sarah froze momentarily but then chuckled to herself. She pushed the door open and walked in.
Her father stood by the fire. To the side was a pile of dried logs. He picked one up with his huge hand and tossed it into the flame like a matchstick. It burst into a cloud of billowing white smoke, which cleared after a few seconds. Flames erupted and engulfed the log. It made the fire roar, lighting up the hut.
The Elder stood up straight and backed away slightly. Sarah could feel the heat clear across the dimly lit room. The now crackling flames cast dancing shadows up into the vaulted roof space.
The Elder’s hut was spartan. A small table and a couple of chairs by the fire were the only furniture. Various weapons hung from the rafters in the vaulted ceiling and on the walls.
Sarah’s father turned to her and said, “Sneaking up and listening at the window is hardly behaviour becoming of a young lady, little one. Hmm?”
“Oh, Daddy. When are you going to finally accept I’m not little one any more? I’m practically a grown woman now.”
The Elder looked at his daughter and heaved a big sigh. “You’re right, of course,” he said, nodding. A slight smile crept across his face.
Sarah’s father was very muscular. His arms were full of tattoos and battle scars. If you hadn’t met him before, you might think he was an aggressive looking man: imposing and dominant. To Sarah, he was a gentle, kind and loving father that doted on her and her sister. He unhooked his weapon belt and tossed it onto the small table. Turning to his daughter, he held both hands out and said, “Not so big that you can’t give your father a cuddle, I hope?”
“Well, I guess nobody is looking,” she said with a smile.
She walked over and wrapped both her arms around him. The Elder did likewise and they lingered for a moment in a warm and loving embrace. Sarah loved her father dearly and held him tight with her eyes closed and a smile from ear to ear. Releasing his daughter, the Elder put both his massive hands on her shoulders and said, “Now, my not so little one, come have a seat and we’ll talk.”
He motioned for her to sit in one of the comfortable chairs by the fire. He then sat down himself and reached for another log. Tossing the heavy lump of wood into the fire like it was nothing more than a small twig, it erupted into a cloud of white smoke again. When the smoke cleared, the extra flames lit up the room some more and the Elder turned to his daughter.
“Did you hear what news the Warriors brought me?”
“Not really. Only a few words.”
“Good. Besides, it’s nothing for you to worry about.”
“I did hear someone say something about total devastation or something? That doesn’t sound like nothing to worry about. What’s happened?”
The Elder pondered for a moment. As if ignoring the question, he turned to Sarah and said, “You’ve reached the age of decision. Have you decided?”
Sarah nodded. “I’m going,” she said. “I want to get out there. You know, learn as much as I can. I want to bring back new skills and knowledge of Forestium…for the good of the village.”
“Is that why you’re doing it? For the good of the village?”
“Well, sort of. I mean, I really do want to help Jemarrah grow and be prosperous and all. It’s just that…”
There was a pause as Sarah’s eyes shifted to the ground.
Her father said nothing but listened patiently, his head tilted forward and his eyebrow raised in anticipation. The crackling fire was the only sound.
Sarah peered into the flames and then turned to her father and said, “I was watching you with the newest batch of Woodsman this morning.”
The Elder chuckled. He shook his head dismissively and said, “Those kids aren’t Woodsman yet. In fact, I don’t think some of them are going to make it at all.”
“Well, that’s just the point. There really isn’t anyone here in Jemarrah that…well, you know. I mean…I just want to get out there and…meet some new people. Maybe, you know…meet someone…special.”
The Elder leaned back in his chair and sighed. He tapped the arm of his chair with his fingers, all the while maintaining eye-contact with his daughter. After another chortle, he leaned forward and said, “My little one really is growing up.”
Sarah raised her brow and nodded slightly.
“So,” he said with a definitive exhale. “When are you planning on leaving?”
Sarah cringed. There was a pause before the Elder spoke again.
“Does your sister know?”
Sarah winced and scratched her head. “Um. Well, not exactly.”
“I know, I know. But you know what she’s like. She’ll get all teary-eyed and the whole goodbye thing will take forever.”
“That’s because she loves you…very much.”
“I know. That’s why I’ve left it as a surprise for her. I don’t want her spending her time being sad about the whole thing. This way it’ll be over with quickly and she won’t, you know, suffer as much.”
The Elder got to his feet. Sarah stood up as well. He put his hands on her shoulders again, and said, “Whatever you decide, you have my full support. Just…promise me one thing?”
“Anything, Daddy. What is it?”
“If you do, you know, meet someone? Will you bring him here to see me?”
“Of course.” Sarah smiled with a slight blush.
They hugged again.
Sarah left her father’s hut with a beaming smile.
The Tale of the Boy and the Wood-boar
Outside, Jemarrah was again a bustling hive of activity. The tension that was in the air before had vanished and people were going about their business as usual.
The Elder’s hut was located in the centre of the village, with several other important buildings, like the school and the inn, nearby. As with all other villages in Forestium, there were no roads in Jemarrah to speak of. Various tracks criss-crossed the town, where wood-shires carved trails from hauling carts laden with all manner of things up and down. Rickety buildings were made from just about any forest materials people could lay their hands on. Living from whatever the forests can provide, the people of Forestium made do in ingenious ways.
Being the major trading hub that it was, Jemarrah was always full of traders from faraway places. They came here, to one of the land’s largest villages, to trade their wares and to bring news of what was going on in other parts of Forestium.
Opposite the Elder’s hut was Jemarrah’s only inn. A dozen or so traders sat at several tables in front of it. They were laughing and enjoying mugs of wine. One trader was showing several others a bolt of cloth he had brought from a neighbouring village. He explained in detail about the material and bright colours. Several other traders were running their hands along its length, nodding in appreciation.
Isabelle had by now finished preparing her shrooms and had walked over to the school for her morning session with the children. All the Tenders of the village share the teaching responsibilities. After leaving her father’s hut, Sarah wandered across there, where she went looking for her sister. Walking through a gap in the hedge that runs around the rickety building, Sarah crept up to the open door and stood there, listening.
She folded her arms and rested against the crooked doorframe, peering inside. Under the thatched roof, Isabelle sat in front of a dozen or more children. Every child was silent and looking up at Isabelle with their jaws dropped. She was telling them a fable about a young child that wandered out of Jemarrah and too far into the forest even after his parents warned him of the dangers lurking there.
Isabelle was an excellent storyteller. The children hung on her every word. She captivated them by really getting into the part and making the story come alive.
“Not realising just how far he had strayed from home,” she said, in a quiet voice that got louder as she went on, “the boy had been exploring his new surroundings. Forgetting his parents’ warnings, he was unaware he was now being stalked by a savage beast!”
The children all gasped.
“The creature crept through the underbrush,” she continued, raising and lowering her voice from time to time. “Getting closer…and…closer,” she went on, peering at each of the children in turn.
“As the Wood-boar closed in, a twig snapped under its enormous weight.”
Isabelle took a sharp intake of breath and held her hands to her mouth. Several of the children did likewise.
“It wasn’t very loud,” she went on, her eyes darting from child to child, “but enough to give its position away. The young boy looked up to see the enormous beast standing on its hind legs and growling at him with saliva dripping from its huge fangs.”
Isabelle held her hands out in front of her with fingers curled forward, as if to demonstrate what a Wood-boar’s paws and huge claws looked like. Again, several children gasped. One held his hands in front of his eyes.
“Not knowing what to do, he ran for his life, but the beast chased after him!”
The children were now shaking their heads in horror.
“Pursued by the angry beast, the boy stumbled several times as the bloodthirsty creature closed the gap with every stride!”
The smaller children in the front row were now leaning forward with their hands on their cheeks, desperate to hear what happened next.
“Just as it lunged to grab the child, he reached the village, where several Warriors battled with the ferocious Wood-boar.”
Cries of “Phew!” rang out around the hall.
“After what seemed like ages, two of the Warriors were maimed before they finally killed the vicious creature.”
Every last child stared at Isabelle with their jaws open and their eyes wide.
Sarah chuckled to herself as she recalled being told a similar tale when she was at school a few years ago. In her case, instead of instilling in her the fear that was intended by the tale, it awoke in her a desire to explore farther beyond the boundaries she was accustomed to.
The door frame creaked as Sarah shifted into a more comfortable position. It wasn’t much but enough to attract Isabelle’s attention. With the children waiting to hear more, Isabelle turned her head slightly to see the unmistakable outline of her sister, clearly visible against the backdrop of the afternoon sun.
“And that, children,” she said quietly, maintaining eye-contact with Sarah, “is why we don’t head off too far into the forest. Forestium is full of dangerous creatures.”
After a pause, she shook her head slightly and said. “And I’d hate to lose any of you.”
Just at that moment, a horn sounded. All the children leapt to their feet and scattered in various directions. Sarah walked in and Isabelle rose to greet her. Sarah chuckled.
“I’m surprised you’re letting them leave the school building, what with all the terrible dangers this place has in store for them.”
“Laugh all you want. You’re not the one that’s being left behind wondering what’s happening to her only sister.”
“Honestly, you’re going to give them all nightmares.”
“Well, if that’s what it takes. Besides, the tale of the boy and the Wood-boar is a classic.”
“Hmm, I know. I remember hearing the story when I was their age.”
“Much good that did. It hasn’t stopped you wanting to head off to explore.”
“Hmm. Well, what are you here for anyway.”
“Um, actually…” Sarah scratched the side of her head and winced slightly.
“Oh, no. I’d recognise that look anywhere. You’ve come to give me bad news. What is it this time? Hmm? You’ve broken another one of Mother’s pots?”
“I only ever broke the one! And besides, you were partly to blame for that anyway.”
“Oh, yes. I was, wasn’t I.”
Both of them giggled. Isabelle’s giggle lingered a little longer. Her smile faded when she saw Sarah wasn’t laughing any more. Sarah’s smile gave way to a deadly earnest look on her face. Isabelle tilted her head slightly.
“What is it?”
“Well…OK, look, there’s just no easy way to break this to you…”
“Break what? What are you talking about?”
“I’ve decided. I’m leaving…tomorrow.”
Isabelle chuckled. “Ha, ha. Very funny.”
Sarah said nothing, a slight wince creeping across her face. Isabelle’s smile faded completely.
“I’m afraid so. Look, I promise to be really, really careful, honest I will. It’s just…well, I need to do this, Isabelle. I need to get out there and explore. Please tell me you’ll support me? It means so much to me what you think.”
Isabelle heaved a huge sigh. Her shoulders sank and she reached for Sarah’s hands. Sarah strained to put on a smile. She raised her eyebrows and peered into her big sister’s eyes.
After a pause, Isabelle put on a brave smile. Her eyes welled up and she said, “How could I ever stay angry with you. I know you’ll be fine. Just…promise me one thing?”
“Please don’t go chasing Wood-boars? I don’t want to be telling the next generation the tale of the girl that got maimed by a Wood-boar—or worse!”
Sarah laughed and they both hugged each other.
“Oh, Sarah. Where have the years gone? Whatever happened to my baby sister?”
Sarah closed her eyes and felt a tear rolling down her cheek.
“I’ll always be your little sister. Always!”
The Hooded Stranger
Sarah and Isabelle walked out of the school. With traders often returning from neighbouring villages at this time of the evening, Jemarrah was again starting to come alive with a hubbub of activity almost everywhere they looked.
“Lots of people around,” Sarah said.
“Hmm. It’s that time of the night. Well, as this’ll be our last night together for a while, let’s go and have a drink. Maybe I can drown my sorrows!” Isabelle suggested.
“Sure. Let’s go see what’s happening at the inn. Looks like it’s quite lively already. Maybe a trader from a faraway village will whisk you off your feet.”
“You say that almost every time we step into this place. It hasn’t happened yet.”
“Yeah, but you do remain hopeful.”
“What is it with the local men anyway? All I want is a nice young Warrior to take care of me. Someone I can keep all to myself. Is that too much to ask? I mean, that’s not selfish, is it?”
“Actually, I think that’s the definition of selfish. Here, let’s grab this one,” Sarah suggested, tugging her sister towards a table in the far corner by the fireplace.
As soon as they sat, the inn-keeper’s wife came over with a small notepad and pencil. She was a short, plump woman with a white apron wrapped around her waist. She wore a velvet green tunic and long, black boots. Her wiry, white hair was tied in a bun on the top of her head with a length of vine.
“Hello girls. What’ll it be tonight?” she said, with a beaming smile. Before either of them had a chance to reply, the woman looked at Sarah and tilted her head.
“Oh, hello there, Sarah. Not often we see you in here with your sister.” She nodded at Isabelle to acknowledge her also.
Sarah smiled politely and gave a little wave.
“Yes, well don’t get used to her. Unfortunately, you’re probably not going to be seeing her in here for a very long time again either,” Isabelle said to the woman. Turning again to face Sarah, and speaking in a deliberate tone, she said, “My dearest sister, here, is leaving to go and find herself in the forests.”
“Well, it’s ‘bout time too, don’t you think?” the woman said, catching Sarah’s eye. “Devilishly smart young Fixer like yourself. After all, you’ve reached the age of decision now, haven’t you my dear?”
“Exactly!” Sarah said, in an equally definitive tone and grinning at Isabelle.
“When are you off, my dear?”
“Um, tomorrow, actually.”
“Oh, well, then, let me go and get you something special I keep for occasions just like this.”
With that, the woman spun on her heels and hurried back towards the bar. Sarah and Isabelle both giggled. They were soon interrupted by the voice of a man.
“Heading off into Forestium, are we?”
It was a trader from another village sitting by himself at the next table. He was wearing a green and yellow tunic and a thick, full-length cloak. His face wasn’t quite visible through the hood that covered his head. Sarah and Isabelle looked at each other with narrowed eyes. The man stood up and pulled his hood back. It revealed a hideous scar that ran down one side of his face from his temple to his chin. He walked over to their table.
“Don’t mind if I join you for a mo’, do you?”
Before Isabelle got any more words out, the man pulled up a stool and sat down.
“Sure. Join us…why don’t you.”
Sarah and Isabelle raised eyebrows at each other.
“You’re a Fixer?” The man said, with a piercing stare at Sarah.
“Um, yes, that’s right. And…you are?”
“Heading out to find yourself, I gather, hey? Hoping to learn new skills and bring them back to the village, am I right?”
“That’s the general idea, yes. Sorry, I don’t think I caught your name?”
The man narrowed his eyes. He turned to look left and right. Sarah and Isabelle both did likewise, following his gaze. The man leaned in. The girls both leaned in as well.
“Stay away from the east!”
“Excuse me?” Sarah said.
“You heard me,” he said, in a whisper, “Stay away from the east.”
The man looked around again. Once more, the girls did the same.
“Terrible things happening there. Not safe for a…youngster like yourself. You mind my words. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay this side of the river.”
“Um, look…friend,” Isabelle said, sitting upright and speaking in a definite tone. “I don’t know how much you’ve had to drink, but…”
“Don’t patronise me, young lady!” he said, sharply. “And don’t take me for a fool either. I’ve seen things…terrible things. I just…wouldn’t want anyone getting into harm’s way, that’s all.”
He turned again to Sarah and continued, “Just…looking out for the young lady’s best interests.”
“OK, well…thanks. I mean, really, thanks,” Sarah said, nodding at the trader. “But I think I can handle myself well enough.”
“What things?” Isabelle asked.
“What?” the trader said, turning to Isabelle.
“You said terrible things. What terrible things?”
“What, you mean like Wood-boars?”
Isabelle turned to Sarah. “Now you did promise me you wouldn’t go hunting Wood-boars, right?”
“I’m not talking about no Wood-boar,” the man said curtly, cutting Sarah off before she could respond. “There are worse things out to the east than Wood-boars, I can promise you that.”
“Worse than a Wood-boar?” Isabelle said, dismissively and rolling her eyes. “Honestly, what could possibly be worse than a Wood-boar?”
The man slowly leaned forwards again. Now captivated and eager to hear more, both girls also leaned forward.
“Nasty, ‘orrible, vicious creatures,” he said. “Rip a Wood-boar to shreds in seconds, so it would. Wouldn’t think twice about ripping you to shreds either, if it got close enough. You’d be lucky to survive!” The man turned his head slightly and ran his finger along the length of his scar.
“Oh, now come on!” Isabelle said, rolling her eyes.
“Doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever heard of,” Sarah said, her natural curiosity kicking in. “What sort of creature are you talking about?”
The man leaned in some more. He whispered, “Blood-bats.”
“Blood-bats?” Isabelle said in a loud voice and sitting bolt upright. One or two people turned briefly to look at them, but soon went back to their conversations.
Isabelle turned to Sarah and said, “What’s a Blood-bat?”
Sarah shrugged. “No idea. Never heard of them.”
Just at that moment, the inn-keeper’s wife came back to their table.
“Hello, Greville,” she said with a sigh. “Not still banging on about those fantastic creatures again, are you?”
The trader stood up and glared down at the woman. She turned to him, folded her arms and raised her eyebrows at him.
“Be on your way, now, and stop frightening these girls here with your nonsense tales.”
The trader’s stare lingered for a moment before he turned to Sarah again. He leaned towards her ear and whispered, “Just don’t cross that river…if you know what’s good for you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!”
With that, he stood up straight, cast a reproving eye at the inn-keeper’s wife again and walked away.
“What was that all about?” Isabelle asked.
“Oh don’t mind him,” the woman said, with a dismissive gesture. “He’s harmless enough. In here every other night trying to convince people he’s seen mythical beasts. Tells everyone it’s where he got his scar. The truth is he got that scar falling off a cart in Temerelle down south. Me ‘usband knows the inn-keeper there, Nedwell. He reckons this one is half a dozen berries short of a Bramock bush.”
Sarah and Isabelle both looked at each other and giggled.
“Here you go, my dear,” the woman said, putting a glass jar onto the table. Sarah tilted her head to see what was inside it. It looked like a mesh of fine strands of black string.
“What’s this?” Sarah asked.
“Just a little treat we like to give people that are about to go on a long journey—just like the one you’ll be going on tomorrow.”
“Oh, yes, I’ve heard about this. Um, what is it?”
“Try some. You’ll see. You’ll love it.”
Sarah picked up the jar. Scribbled across it were the words ‘Liquorice Moss’.
Sarah looked up at the old woman. She looked down at Sarah and nodded with her eyebrows raised.
“Go on, me dear, that’s right.”
Sarah unscrewed the lid and reached in. She pulled out a small bunch of the fibrous strands. Sniffing them first, she then put them into her mouth and started chewing.
Isabelle looked at her expectantly.
“Hmmm. What a…distinctive, um, taste,” Sarah said, looking up at the woman and smiling as politely as she could. The woman beamed at her and went back to the bar.
“Come on,” Sarah said, holding her hand to her mouth and getting to her feet.
“Are we leaving? Why”
“Well, unless you want me to spit this out right here?”
Both girls burst into laughter and quickly walked out of the inn.
The next morning, Sarah awoke to the usual sound of the dawn forest chorus. She lay there, staring at the ceiling, as thoughts of her journey ahead raced through her mind. She pondered the various ways she could think of surviving, using nothing more than what she would find along the way. The thought of that challenge excited her. First light was just starting to pour into Jemarrah. The slow-burning logs on the fire were all but spent, leaving a plume of smoke rising from the remaining pile of smouldering ashes. The soothing hum from the swarms of night-time Dengle-bugs was beginning to die down.
“Isabelle?” she called out, yawning and stretching her arms out.
There was no answer. Her sister had always been an early riser. Sarah quickly got up and readied herself for what was sure to be a most difficult morning of farewells. By the time she had something to eat and made her way into town, a group of well-wishers had already started gathering at the school, where the going away ceremony would take place. Sarah had attended these ritual good-byes herself when other Fixers before her had left for their travels. Today it would be her turn to be the centre of that attention.
It had been a chilly night. A light ground-frost was still melting in places. A hazy mist floated in the air. The familiar night-time hum of Dengle-bugs had by now subsided altogether and the new day was taking hold across the land. Chirvels chirped and jumped from branch to branch, as they scurried to find scraps of food left by Jemarrah’s inhabitants. Their bushy tails made them extremely agile in the trees.
Sarah looked up to see shards of light piercing through the treetop canopy. She heard a flock of Raetheons soaring high above and out of sight. Sarah pondered just how far those majestic, white birds could fly and whether she would encounter them in other far flung corners of Forestium.
She took in a deep lungful of fresh air and exhaled slowly. Sarah had been looking forward to this for a long time. Now that the day had come, she felt a surge of exhilaration but it was tinged with the sadness of the farewell she would now have to endure.
“So. Finally got out of bed, then?”
Sarah turned to find Isabelle walking towards her. She was carrying a basket full of freshly harvested Shrooms.
“Hmmm,” Sarah said, learning towards the basket and sniffing. “They look good. What are they? Wendilous?”
“You’re the expert. You tell me.”
Sarah picked up a couple of the Shrooms and examined them further. “Actually, it looks like you have some Brevanian in there as well. It’s a bit early in the season for those. They smell delicious, though. Where did you find them?”
“Wasn’t easy. I had to walk about two hours out of the village.”
“Two hours? Why go to so much bother? There are plenty of Shrooms growing around here.”
Isabelle shifted the basket to her hip. She looked at Sarah, raised her brow and said, “It isn’t every day I have to say goodbye to my only sister. I wanted only the best for your farewell ceremony. Come on. If you’re going to make me go through this, you can at least help me with the preparations.”
They walked into the school, where a group of Tenders was already busy decorating the hall and laying food out onto a table at the front. It was the job of the village Tenders, like Isabelle, to look after and care for people. That included arranging things like farewell ceremonies, which typically take place once a month or so.
Over the course of the morning, lots more people arrived at the school, which had become quite packed. Ordinarily, only family and close friends would attend these functions, but it seemed like half the town had turned out to bid the Elder’s daughter farewell and to wish her well on her travels.
Sarah never sought this kind of attention or notoriety. She often found it uncomfortable being the centre of attention. Over the years she learned to deal with the fact that her father was the town’s most important person.
Various cries of things like “Good luck, Sarah,” and “be careful now,” rang out across the hall throughout the morning. Sarah did her best to respond politely each time, even if she didn’t always see the person in question. All the voices merged together after a while but one stood out for some reason.
“Remember what I said, young lady. Stay away from the east.”
Sarah turned to see who it was but was immediately distracted by the inn-keeper’s wife, who had managed to push her way through the crowd to get close to Sarah.
“Here you go, Sarah my dear,” she said, pushing a palmful of liquorice moss into Sarah’s hand.
“Oh, that’s very kind of you, but…”
“Now just remember to eat it just a little at a time, okay?”
“Um, yes, well, thank you very much. I’m sure it will…come in very handy.”
Sarah stuffed the black strands of liquorice moss into her pocket. The inn-keeper’s wife smiled and nodded before pushing her way back into the crowd again.
Isabelle whispered into Sarah’s ear, “Remember not to eat it all at once.” They both chuckled.
Just at that moment, a horn sounded. Everyone turned to look at the front door. There in the doorframe, silhouetted against the backdrop of the morning sun was the unmistakable outline of Sarah’s father. The room fell silent. He walked in. Everyone moved out of his way and an opening formed all the way to the main table, where Sarah and Isabelle were stood. Trailing behind him were a dozen or so warriors. They made their way to the front table and stood in a row before it, facing the crowd. The Elder stood between his two daughters and addressed the onlookers.
“Today is a day of great honour. My youngest daughter will be leaving us for a while. But she will be back and with her she’ll bring new skills and knowledge…”
As the Elder spoke, Sarah looked around the hall. Everyone smiled and listened intently to his words. At least, almost everyone. At the very back of the hall, a dark figure was moving slowly towards the door. Sarah squinted and moved her head left and right to try to get a better look. It was a man. He was wearing a dark, full-length cloak with a hood over his head. He walked out the door. With the sunlight streaming through, Sarah couldn’t quite make out who it was. The man stepped out into the sun, stopped, removed his hood and turned to look over his shoulder. He stared at Sarah. Now visible in the morning sunlight, Sarah recognised him as the man that spoke to her at the inn last night. The scar down his face was unmistakable.
Just then, Sarah felt something.
“…And we wish her a safe journey,” her father said, patting her on the shoulder.
The crowd erupted into cheers and applause.
Sarah smiled and started to thank the crowd. She glanced back at the door but the man had gone.
Sarah turned back to the crowd. Everyone had fallen silent. Her father nudged her.
“Oh, right. Um, yes, well thank you all for coming,” she said, snatching herself back to the moment. “Um…really, it’s…very much appreciated. And I hope to bring back lots of new skills…for the good of the village. Thank you.”
Once again, the crowd erupted into applause. Everyone wanted to get close to Sarah to congratulate her and to wish her well. The warriors did their best to contain everyone’s enthusiasm and to prevent them from rushing forward.
After a few more congratulatory handshakes, Sarah’s father made his way to the door. The warriors followed him and formed two lines to create a pathway so that Sarah could exit the building unobstructed.
Sarah turned to Isabelle and threw her arms around her. They hugged tightly for several moments, both with tears in their eyes.
The horn sounded again. Sarah and Isabelle let go of each other and Sarah made her way to the door. With one last hug from her father, she set off to discover new skills.
The end…or just the beginning.
[If you want to find out what happens with Sarah on her journey of discovery, check out _]Forestium: The Mirror Never Lies[, which is book one in the Portallas series of novels:_]
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Christopher D. Morgan is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author, blogger, IT Manager, graphics artist, businessman, volunteer and family man living in Melbourne, Australia. He spends much of his spare time volunteering for his local community. He creates visual learning resources for primary school children, which he markets through his company Bounce Learning Kids. He is also involved in local civics and sits on various community & council committees.
Christopher was born in the UK and grew up in England’s South East. At age twenty, he moved to The Netherlands, where in 1988 he married Sandy. Christopher quickly learned Dutch and the couple spent eight years living in the far South of that country before they moved to Florida in 1996. After spending six years in Florida, Christopher and Sandy sold their home and spent the next two years backpacking around the world. Christopher has visited about 40 countries to date and 13 US states.
Whilst circumnavigating the globe, Christopher wrote extensively, churning out travel journals. He and Sandy settled back in the UK at the end of their world tour, where their two children were both born. In 2009, the family uproot again and moved to Melbourne, Australia, where they now live.
You can read all about Christopher & Sandy’s epic travels on his travel showcase website: http://ChrisAndSandyMorgan.com/
Following the successful launch of his writing career, Christopher joined forces with fellow author, JA Culican, to start Dragon Realm Press, a one-stop-shop that provides a full range of services to other authors.
I visit many schools to speak to students about being an author and the writing process. During these visits, I speak to students about my own journey, as well as everything to do with being an author. If you are interested in me coming to a school near you, please contact me via the Portallas web-site by clicking on the School visits accordion on the About page:
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Visit the Portallas web-site and take a look at these unique bookmarks. There are three sets of ten in all and each features detailed information about characters, roles or flora and fauna found in the Portallas series.
The front of each bookmark features a piece of an image. Put all ten bookmarks from one set together to form an image. Can you guess what it is?
Bounce Learning Kids
When I’m not writing novels, I am create Visual Learning Resources through an education supplies company that I run called Bounce Learning Kids. The resources I create are designed for school children, special needs children and adults for whom English is a second language. Find out more here:
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Learn all about the characters and their back-stories here:
Whether it be Woodsman, Tender, Fixer or any of the other roles that play out in Forestium, find out more about them here:
Flora & Fauna
Forestium is a world full of magical creatures but there’s more to them than you might think. Ever wondered what a Wood-boar or a Raetheon sounds like? Head over to the Portallas web-site to explore them all in more detail:
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Explore the world of Forestium through this interactive map. Find all the magical artefacts, see where all the locations are and where each chapter of the book plays out:
Forestium events timeline
Forestium has a rich and diverse history. Learn all about how this magical world came to be the way it is. Discover when all the characters were born and more about their lives here:
Have fun with all the characters of Forestium in this quirky series of character interviews:
Check out the quizzes page at portallas.com for a range of fun quizzes:
Sarah’s Farewell is a Portallas short story that tells some of the backstory about one of the main characters from the Portallas series of books. Sarah is a young Fixer, someone who makes and mends things, from the northern town of Jemarrah in the magical world of Forestium. We first meet Sarah in Forestium: The Mirror Never Lies, which is book one in the Portallas series. In Forestium, Sarah is befriended by Joshua, a young Woodsman from a distant village who has set off on a journey to find the truth about his father. Sarah herself is travelling the land on a journey of discovery—a sort of modern day gap year. In Sarah’s Farewell, we discover how it came to be that she has embarked on her journey.