Five days. Five whole days she’d been in Tyrelia, and still no people. Just this forest going on and on. Tree after tree. The path she’d initially been following had become narrower and narrower, until it had all but disappeared. Tendrils of doubt crept into her thoughts. What if nobody lived here anymore? Maybe that was why the Master had built the Wall—not to keep people out of Tyrelia, but to keep people safe in Medar! What if her being able to enter Tyrelia was all a big mistake?
At first it had been amazing: finally making it to the archway that had drawn her from across the Chasm in Medar. It had looked ancient. Roughly hewn rocks stacked atop one another to form a rounded archway. Except, the stones didn’t appear to be quite solid. She’d walked over to it and run her hands over the stones closest to her. Rough, but not sharp. The points had been worn smooth, as if hundreds—no, thousands—of hands had done the same before her. The translucent rocks had been warm from the day’s sun.
And then, when she’d stepped through the archway, a shield had appeared on her back! Instinctively, she reached behind her to feel it. There it was, metallic and round, protruding above her shoulders, its curved surface covered with studs. She brushed her fingertips over them and shook her head, bewildered. She still had no idea where it had come from.
She had turned back once more to look at her friends, the Watchers Saff and Thyst, whom she had hugged and farewelled just moments earlier. They’d stood looking at the spot where for them, Freya had disappeared through the Wall. Yet Freya had been able to see them clearly. Saff leaning against the Wall, his weathered blue robe wrapped around his tall, lean frame. Thyst standing with her back to the Chasm they had all climbed not even an hour earlier, her bow slung at her back, over her purple-hued cloak. Freya had raised her hand, even though she had known they couldn’t see her.
Then she had turned her back on them and Medar, to drink in the Tyrelian landscape spread before her like a feast. It was incredible. Never had she seen colours so vibrant: from the verdant green of the lush grass under her feet, the intense blue of the sky overhead, the deep purples and bright yellows and reds of the tiny flowers dotting the meadow, to the deeper greens and browns of trees on the far side of the meadow. She had gazed at it all in wonder.
It was then that she’d spotted the pillar on the far side of the meadow, at the edge of a forest. As she’d approached the monolith, she’d noticed strange shadows on its surface. She’d broken into a jog. The shadows had refined into markings and then, finally, words. Panting slightly, Freya had reached out a tentative hand to touch the pillar. It was stone. The letters were worn, indicating great age, but still legible. They read:
THE LAWS OF TYRELIA
- Honour the Ancient
- Put others first
- Use your gifts for good
- Follow the Rules
She had stared at them for a while. Well, the first one had made sense. The tablet that she’d discovered near her hometown of Nob in Medar had told her about the Ancient. She’d found it in a cave she had practically fallen into whilst trying to escape from the village boys. The tablet was about the size of a small book and made of some sort of glass. When she shone a flame on its surface, words had magically appeared: a poem telling her about Tyrelia. It was only later, after she’d been torn from her family and almost killed by the Guards, she’d discovered that new words appeared in moonlight. It was then that she’d unlocked the secret of the tablet: the four numbers 50, 63, 92 and 99 etched into the bottom of its face turned out to be clues as to which substances would reveal further stanzas of the poem. It wasn’t until she’d revealed the tablet to rainbow light that she’d learnt of the Ancient. The fourth and final substance had been snow. It had filled her with hope, seeing mention of the Ancient on that pillar. Her friends, Watchers Saff, Thyst and Rube, didn’t think that the Ancient was still alive, but Freya had been convinced that he was, and now, there he was in the first law: Honour the Ancient. Maybe, just maybe, she would find the Ancient and he would tell her how she could free her family from the Golden City. She had smiled to herself.
The second law was nice. Put others first. That’s just what friends should do for each other anyhow, she’d thought. But the third one: Use your gifts for good. What gifts? She didn’t have any gifts—did she? What about the shield that had just magically appeared on her back? Was it a gift? If so, what was she supposed to do with it? She had no idea.
Maybe it meant her tablet? She’d used it to find the long-lost path out of Medar and into Tyrelia. That was certainly good. Well, good for her. Except nobody else could get through the Wall. She puzzled on that for a bit. Why couldn’t the others get through? She’d tossed her head in exasperation. She just couldn’t figure it out.
A thought had popped into her head. Her talking stone! Maybe that was a gift, too? She’d received it from Watcher Merald, right before he’d died. He’d rescued her from the Pit that the Guards were going to throw her in and had just managed to tell her to find Watcher Saff. It hadn’t been easy, but she had found him, and it turned out that all the Watchers had a talking stone each—that’s how they communicated with each other. She pulled it out of the pouch hanging around her neck and held it up to her good eye. It was the size of a quail egg, greenish in colour with marbled white veins running through it. They’d tested that the stones worked with Freya in Tyrelia and the Watchers on the other side of the Wall, still in Medar. In her final conversation with them, right before she’d passed through the Wall five days’ ago, they’d agreed to contact each other every night at dusk. She supposed that was also a good use of her gift.
She didn’t have anything else that could possibly be considered a gift: she was still clothed in her leather tunic, leggings and travel cloak, with her shield and satchel slung over top. That was all she had. She was just an ordinary, nearly-fourteen-year-old girl.
Well, maybe not so ordinary, she thought ruefully, grimacing. After all, it had turned out that she was the subject of a thousand-year-old prophesy and was the Daughter of Yaw. That had been a shocking discovery and was pretty much when everything had started to go wrong. Her family, consisting of her father, Thomas, her mother Martha and her seventeen-year-old brother Jack, had all been so excited that day when they’d learnt that they’d won the lottery, and had been Selected to go and live in the Golden City. But when they’d finally got to Targa for processing, nasty old Garret (who’d driven them to Targa in his cart) suddenly announced out of the blue that Freya was adopted! On that day, she’d learned that her actual mother had been a woman from Yawbridge and that was why Freya had been condemned to death: because a Daughter of Yaw was prophesied to break down the Wall. And then, just before she stepped through the Wall, Watcher Rube had revealed via the talking stones that he was her real father! Oh my, her heart still jumped a beat thinking about it all.
And in a way, he was the reason she was here now. Of course, they’d all followed the clues in the Tablet and the Prophesy to find the long-lost path to Tyrelia. The Vision had seemed to infer that she’d break down the Wall, but in reality it had simply disappeared for her. For the others it was still a solid, impenetrable Wall. She was the only one who could pass through it. So, Rube had given her a new quest: to enter Tyrelia alone and figure out how to free her family from the Golden City.
But after five days of trudging through this forest, the excitement had given way to doubt. She’d not seen a single soul. Apart from a rickety old shack near the pillar, where she’d spent her first night, and a moss-and-lichen-covered stone with the word ‘Beta’, an arrow underneath and the words ’50 rata’ etched into it, there had been no other signs of habitation. Maybe she was the only human in Tyrelia? A chill crept through her at the thought. The only thing that kept her loneliness at bay was her contact with the Watchers each evening.
Suddenly, Freya stopped in her tracks and turned slowly in a circle, scrutinising the ground, frowning. Where was the path? Her heart started pounding. Her eye darted from tree to tree. Which way had she come from? Her gaze settled on a large tree not too far away. Its thick branches grew low to the ground and were ideal for climbing. She slipped off her shield and satchel and set them at the base of the tree. She reached overhead and, gripping a branch, placed one foot on the lowest bough and pulled herself into the foliage. Up, up, up she clambered, higher and higher, testing each branch before letting it take her weight. The higher she got, the thinner the branches. But she was not heavy. She kept climbing. Eventually, she emerged out of the forest canopy. She gasped, gazing about her, blinking in the bright sunlight.
A sea of leaves spread out below her in every direction: light green, dark green, yellow, brown and black greens, undulating with the varying tree heights. She shaded her eyes with her hand. There! She spied the archway and, behind it, the Chasm: a black, jagged gash in the earth, stretching away in either direction like a jester’s grin. Freya manoeuvred around such that the Chasm was at her back. She scanned the leafy ocean in the opposite direction. Oh! There was the edge of the forest. And what was that? She screwed up her good eye, peering intently. Yes, it was definitely a path. And beyond the path…cultivated fields! That meant people. That was where she wanted to go, then.
To not lose her bearings, Freya tried to keep facing the path she had spied as she climbed back down the tree. It was a little awkward, as the branches weren’t aligned properly for it. She eased herself down, branch by branch. The lower she got, the further apart the branches were. A few boughs above the ground, she struggled to reach the next branch. Still trying to keep her orientation towards the path out, she squirmed her way along a branch on her belly, then gently swung her legs down. Slowly, carefully, she let herself slide down until her toes touched the branch below. She eased her weight onto the branch…but somehow, her foot slipped. Before she knew it, she was falling. She flailed her arms, ripping off a nail. She screamed. Twigs caught at her hair and scratched her face. Thud! She landed heavily on the bottom branch, winding herself. She slid the rest of the way and slumped onto the ground like a sack of potatoes. She lay there, unmoving. Then she moaned.
She opened her eye and stared up at the tree, taking shallow breaths. Breathing was painful. She lifted her arms. They seemed okay. Gingerly, she pushed herself to a sitting position. Ouch. She touched her sternum where it hurt most. Then froze. Her talking stone! Where was it? Frantically, she fumbled at the string around her neck and pulled out the pouch. She closed her eye in relief. It was still there. Wincing slightly, she pulled it over her head and worked her fingers inside the pouch to grab the stone. No! No, no, no, no, no! It couldn’t be. A sob escaped her.
All that remained of her stone were crushed fragments.