Extract from The Sword of Air.
The moon was like a cold sun and the stars stopped their navigating. Twilight fell through stained glass, casting the great hall in pale reds. The sword of air shone like an ancient candle. I opened the glass case and ran two fingers along the precious steel. I lingered over the point, then pushed down hard. Blood trickled from my fingers like spilt wine. I felt nothing. The sound of boots clicking against the stone floor echoed along the corridor. I snapped the cabinet shut and massaged the blood into my skin. The metal door clanged open and Lorcan entered. I drew a deep breath through my nose and sat on the emerald throne.
‘Your majesty.’ He growled, bowing before me. His reptilian eyes narrowed and cast a shadow across his blunt nose and mouth. The thick scales of his skin were scared from a lifetime of war. It was as if a half man, half dragon stood before me.
‘I hope you bring me news of the child.’
‘No my lady.’
‘No!’ I said standing. A sensation of increased strength flowed through my body. The terror in his face was reflected in the polished floor as he bowed again. This time his head almost touched the step in front of him.
‘Stand.’ He rose, his skin a pallid green.
‘My lady, we have searched the forest from Tara to the south coast, burning every settlement in our way and…’
‘Enough of your excuses,’ I said cutting across him. An overpowering silence rang in my ears.
Lorcan’s tendons stood out in his neck, his pulse visible. ‘Please madam, but how do you know if this child even exists?’
‘You dare to question me?’ I said stepping down from the plinth so that I was level with him. He stepped backwards and I could smell the sweat on his skin. Rotting fish and driftwood. The foul smelling sea, that gave birth to the Formor’s.
I walked forward and caressed the side of his face. His skin was rough like leather. His pupils dilated swallowing the yellow of his eyes.
‘Lorcan, do you love me?’
‘Yes my lady.’
‘Why?’ I whispered still holding his head in my hand.
‘You freed my people.’
‘Yes, and what do I ask of you in return?’
‘To find the child.’
‘And is disappointment anyway to repay me,’ I said, my grip so tight my knuckles were now white.
‘No my lady.’
I dropped my hand, turned and make my way back to the throne. I stared at Lorcan, and blew out a long breath that rattled my lips.
‘I will see that you and your men enjoy yourself this evening. There will be enough food and drink to make yourselves sick, and you will have your pick of the Fomor women. Then tomorrow you will continue your search for the child.’
‘Yes my lady,’
‘Do not let me down Lorcan. I will hold you personally responsible if this child is not found.’
‘Yes my lady,’ he said blinking rapidly.
‘You may go now.’ He turned and walked stiffly out of the great hall.
I watched the flames in the central hearth. They twisted and flicked in a way that reminded me of my sister’s golden hair. Everyone had loved her, especially our father. He would never have sold Shania the way he sold me to settle a political grievance. I ground my teeth together and heat flushed through my body. He indulged her, turned her into the kind of child who thought she was Queen of the universe. The kind of child who thought she could command the stars and sea. When my sister closed her eyes at night she imagined the rest of the world stopped too. What she wanted she thought she should get and what she wished for she deserved. It was his fault she became involved with a mortal.
I rose from my throne and stepped down onto the floor. There was a chill in the air and I wrapped my robe across the front of my body. I left the great hall and walked silently to my chamber.
The door creaked open. Flames cast shadows that waved and dipped on the red walls. The candles in the chandelier were bent like witches fingers. Ona lifted her head and yawned, her pink tongue lolling between fanged teeth. I make a clicking sound with the back of my throat. She moved her head but her golden eyes remained fixed like an owl. A purring sound filled the room. I sat next to her on the four-poster bed that I never slept in. Her ears moved forward and her whiskers relaxed as I massaged her fur. I held my arm out and she left a trail of sandpaper kisses on my skin. I had the greatest respect for animals. We shared a point of view that most people tended to forget: life was about survival. I leaned my head down to her and we bumped noses. Her fur smelled of summer grass.
I heard a low rustling sound. The window had been blown open by the breathing of the stars. My cloak hanging over the chair of my dressing table flapped in the breeze. When I was sixteen and my sister had just turned ten, our father gave us two cloaks made entirely of feathers. ‘Faery wings’ the Danann people called them. My sister’s cloak was made of eagle feathers. Like her golden hair, its brightness delighted and charmed anyone who saw it. The sight of it made my chest burn and my stomach harden. The cloak he gave me was the colour of midnight and made of raven feathers.
‘Cloaks from the magical isles’ he said. I remembered the sensation when my father first laid the cloak across my shoulders. It was as though I was being squeezed from within. I suddenly felt weightless, and before I knew it I was floating. I looked down and watched him lay my sisters cloak over her shoulders. He pulled her close and kissed her forehead before letting go. Suddenly she was in the air too. With her gold hair floating around her she was as beautiful as the sun. I looked down at my father staring up at her, his dark eyes pools of adoration. My breath became coarser and faster and there were spots in my vision. I knew my father expected me to look after Shania on our first flight, but instead of taking her hand I turned my gaze and flew towards the horizon. The wind rushed through my hair and around my ears, and for the first time in my life I felt free.
When I returned that evening I learned it would take more than a pair of wings to release me from the shackles of patriarchy. I remembered my father’s eyes, cold and hard like flint. His chest heaved and his nostrils flared.
‘You will be married before the waning moon is full’, he said and they were the last words he ever spoke to me.
I distracted myself by getting up and walking over to my dressing table. I stared into the mirror. I did not look a day over thirty, but I was as old as the earth. My eyes burned like green fire against my porcelain skin and my raven hair fell in glossy curls about my shoulders. My coral lips were full of life, not thin like an old woman’s.
The night air smelled of burnt leaves. Mmm, I said to myself. I snatched my feathered cloak and in the next moment I was airborne. My skin and blood ripped into bone and feather. I slipped out of the arched window and unfolded my wings.
As I hovered over Tara, only the silence breathed. I dived downwards, my feathers taking on a blue-purple iridescence. Pine needles scraped my skin as I entered the forest and headed towards the Grogoch’s house.
I caught the smell of copper on the wind. My eyes scanned the forest floor for prey. I spotted a dead deer and swooped down. I perched on its antlers. The bloody contents of the animal’s twisted insides were laid out beside it. Wolves I thought smiling to myself. I hopped along the deer’s warm, limp body. Spotting a deep incision in the animal’s fur, I stretched out my wings and stabbed my beak into its flesh. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that Ravens go for the eyes of a fallen creature first. The flesh cut like steak when raw, but was even richer in taste. Strength flowed through my wings and body. My feathers were wet with blood.
I flew inches from the forest floor and slipped through the smallest of gaps. Split second timing, always a breath away from collision with a tree. Wings in, twist right, twist left, long tail taking over for fine control. A full three hundred and sixty degrees for recovery. A lightening strike of branches loomed overhead. I soared high into the night sky. I wheeled back on myself, then dived down, every branch a near miss and landed at the foot of the Grogoch’s tree.
I shook my feathers until I was nothing but a black blur. The blackness bleeds apart and forms the shape of a woman. I placed my hand on the thick bark, closed my eyes and allowed my mind to become silent. A cracking sound filled the air and the trunk splintered in half revealing a staircase. In three great leaps I was at the top.
I listened for the Grogoch’s heartbeat. Unbroken silence wrapped itself around me. I looked around the dark room taking a mental note of the blankets strewn on the floor and the unwashed breakfast dishes in the sink. I walked over and picked up the blankets. One at a time I tossed them aside until I found what I was looking for. I smiled to myself pulling a single strand of golden hair from one of them. It was like the wind had swept through and left me proof of the girl’s existence. I held the blanket to my face and breathed in the child’s scent. She smelled of jasmine and elderberry just like Shania.
There were three unwashed breakfast dishes so the girl had at least two companions with her. Damn the Grogoch, I should have known he was too weak to ever hand the girl over. The hardened grease, shining in the moonlight on their plates, also told me they were a whole day ahead. My chest tightened and my limbs tingled. Could they have made it to the stone circle by now? I threw my cloak over my shoulders and was a raven again. I flew down the staircase and into the night air. My wings beat slow and purposeful. The feathers flexed and extended like fingers with every motion. I had no time for acrobatics now. I wanted to get to the stone circle as fast as I could. The stars overlapped each other in the sky like tree trunks in the middle of a thick forest. Their light made the evergreens appear like stalks of wheat. I flew past rivers and mountains that looked like long silver snakes and castles children had built in the sand. I tasted salt on my tongue. I lowered my head and saw the restless sea. As I descended I heard the waves speak the oceans language. Water crashed against the rocks and the spray stung my feathers. The stone circle rose from the sea.
R.J. Madigan is a London born writer who has taken a slightly different route to other authors by publishing her first YA Fantasy novel ‘The Sword of Air,’ as a multi-touch iBook. Inspired by the Pharrel Williams quote ‘Kids today need visual,’ she has used iBooks author to include stunning photography, cinematic soundtrack, HD video and 3D modelling to colour the world of The Sword of Air to give her readers a much more visceral experience. Decades ago writers like Issac Asimov and Neil Stephenson envisaged a world where books were more than just print, they came alive and talked to you, reacted and interacted with you. That world is now with the iPad bringing science fiction into reality. No one has really taken advantage of this new technology so R.J. Madigan has decided to shake up the publishing world by using it for her storytelling.
You can view The Sword of Air book trailer on Youtube, and download the first three chapters for free from the iBooks store to experience R.J Madigan’d magical storytelling and the incredible multi-touch features for yourself. When you have read The Sword of Air, R.J Madigan would love to hear what you think of the story, the technology and how you think this will all develop in the future.