Rojuun by John H. Carroll - Read Online
Rojuun
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Summary

Book 1 of the Willden Trilogy.

Ryallon is a vast world surrounded by chaotic energies. Humans live on a few of the continents separated by massive oceans, but many areas of the world are unexplored and filled with enormous forests, endless deserts and majestic mountain ranges. The light of two moons, Siahray and Piohray keep the night skies bright.

Tathan left home at the age of fifteen to travel the world. He found adventure along the way, but it wasn’t always the sort a young man dreamed of. Most of it was much darker with dark alleys, knives, and a primal struggle for life at the lowest levels rather than dragons, maidens, knights and treasure. Fourteen years later, he has come home to the valley where he grew up.

Liselle is a young woman of seventeen years whose parents wish her to marry soon. However, marriage is the last thing on her mind when she has never seen anything beyond the lonely valley where she lives. Liselle spends much of her time talking to the flowers about how she feels. They listen intently to her every word.

Vevin is . . . well . . . something else entirely. His home was recently stolen from him by a terrible creature who hurt him badly. Now he is searching for a new home. Preferably something with a large area to keep his treasure . . . once he acquires some.

Sir Danth is the greatest of the ancient Knights of Morhain . . . Of course, he’s the only Knight of Morhain still alive . . . sort of alive . . . only different.

Rumors are spreading about a new race called Rojuun. They appeared from the depths of the mountains eight-hundred years ago with the intention of taking over the world. It is their understanding that humans exist to serve them, but are disappointed that humans don’t seem to be aware of that fact.

The companions are charged with finding out more about this race of Rojuun. Will they be entranced by beautiful music flowing through the air, or will they die a horrible death in the darkest depths of the world? And exactly who, or what, is Vevin anyway?

The Willden Trilogy is an epic fantasy that follows the adventures of Tathan and his companions through the Willden Forest and into the depths of the world. A new race called Rojuun has appeared in the world and is threatening to make humans their servants. It is the companions’ task to learn more and perhaps rescue a princess if they have the time.

Published: John H. Carroll on

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Rojuun - John H. Carroll

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Ryallon

Map of The Willden Forest

Chapter 1

Year 1390, Fifth Age

Being half a year after the events of Pelya

Tathan was a tall man of twenty-nine years with curly black hair framing a face tanned by travel. His gloved hand rested on the hilt of a thin, slightly curved sword sheathed at his waist while his intense grey eyes studied the secluded mountain valley of his childhood.

A breeze caressed his cheek, bringing sounds of bees finding the first blossoms of spring. Other insects buzzed through the valley hoping the birds would be too busy singing their songs to feast upon them. Snowcapped mountains surrounded wild grasses dotted with groves of trees and crossed by small streams. The sky was deep blue with wisps of clouds that would likely become afternoon thunderstorms.

The rays of a newly risen sun chased away the chill. Tathan knew it would take a full day and night’s travel to make it to the eastern side of the valley where he used to live, so he adjusted his travel pack on his shoulders and continued his journey. There was no path or road, his parent’s house being the only dwelling in the peaceful valley.

Few people came to visit. This was a place free of the wars, politics and various ills of civilization permeating the rest of the world. The only religion Tathan had grown up with was a simple spirituality and knowledge of the ways of nature. Just being back in this valley was almost enough to bring a smile to his face . . . but he hadn’t smiled in quite a while.

His mind heard an odd noise. He whipped out his sword and crouched. The breeze ruffled his hair as he scanned the rest of the valley, and the sun glistened off a small, opal tipped piercing in his eyebrow and the golden earrings that hung from his ears. An unseen danger whispered on that breeze. He scrutinized the small mountain trail behind him. Nothing appeared. Tathan stayed in a defensive position a few moments.

I must remember not to be so jumpy when I reach home. He sighed and sheathed his sword. After a few steps, he increased his pace, moving like a panther over the grass. Hours passed before he slowed to a walk.

He reached into his pack to grab trail rations as he looked around once more. Sheep roamed freely to the north of him, staying together to protect themselves from the occasional predator. Tathan remembered having to round them up for wool and meat when he was younger. It was a simpler life then.

The rest of the day passed without incident. Flowers were in bloom while bees and insects went merrily about their business. It amused Tathan to think of insects as merry, but it was the way of things here. The thought of camping for the night crossed his mind, but with sleep came dark dreams.

As the sun touched the western mountains, Tathan stopped to cook a warm meal of a rabbit he caught along the way. It took a few minutes to set a fire pit, gather sticks from a grove of trees nearby and water from a small stream. The clouds hadn’t delivered upon their promise of afternoon rain, so the wood was dry.

A gesture and an arcane word sent a swirl of flame from his fingertips to light the campfire. Tathan prepared the rabbit and warmed roots he had dug out of the ground earlier. It was a good meal. He leaned against his travel pack to relax for a bit while eating.

Every nerve in his body shrieked warning of peril.

Tathan rolled to the side, his sword out in a breath. It slashed through the air, again, and once more. Tathan tumbled and leapt, looking for the next person to fight.

There was no one.

In the light of the moons and the lingering coals of the campfire, Tathan saw the only thing he had wounded was thin air. He was certain the air would recover. After a brief search of the area, he extinguished the fire, grabbed his travel pack and continued.

Tathan looked at the innumerable bright stars that lit up the night. Swaths of sparkling mist floated across the sky like branches of a meandering river. Called the Mists of Magic, they flowed through shafts in the vast world of Ryallon and consisted of pure magical energy. He took a deep breath and reveled in the brilliance of a view that wasn’t possible in cities.

Siahray was the nearest of two moons. Its blue and green surface was three quarters full in the southern sky. Piohray was small and far from the world. Red and orange colors swirled around the surface, though it was hard to tell unless one stared at it awhile. It was half-full near the eastern horizon. Together, they cast lavender light over the surroundings that made it easy to travel by.

Shortly after midnight, Tathan thought he saw a dragon cross the sky in front of Siahray. A few minutes later, he saw a burst of brilliant white to the north. The thought of dragons playing in the sky sent shivers up his spine.

It was morning when Tathan saw the smoke of a fireplace rising in the distance. Before long, he was close enough to smell cooking food. His stomach growled in anticipation.

The sun peeked over the mountains as he approached the grey stone house, an old place built by ancestors whose memory was lost to time. He had been told as a child that the stone was bound by magic, making it strong. Two other houses stood empty, used only for storage. He knew from experience their thatched roofs weren’t so magical and needed yearly maintenance. The barn behind the main house was made of the same stone. On the other side of a babbling brook were woods he used to explore.

The sun’s amber light touched the chimney of the house when Tathan stopped to take in the scene before him. The thing he remembered most about his childhood was wanting to leave. Every chance he got, Tathan would run off to explore the woods, climbing up trees to hide from his parents so he wouldn’t have to do chores or go to bed. He explored further with every year he aged, going beyond the woods to the base of the mountains, trying to find roads out of the valley. At first, his father beat him for running off, but eventually gave up upon realizing his son would just run farther and hide better the next time.

A young woman came around the house and spotted Tathan, breaking his reverie. Mother! She ran to the front porch and, with a glance over her shoulder, dashed inside.

Tathan stared at the door for a moment. There hadn’t been anyone younger living here when he was growing up. His sister Mariah would be much older now.

A tall woman of middle age walked out, wiping her hands on an apron that protected her yellow dress from stains. Hello, traveler! We don’t get many people visiting in this valley. Her black hair was beginning to grey.

Tathan looked around for signs of his family. They would never have left their home.

Traveler? Are you well? Do you need aid?

Tathan shook his head to clear it. Hmm? I’m fine. Pardon me, but I don’t recognize you.

The woman stepped toward Tathan. I don’t recognize you either. Should I?

The young woman who had rushed inside came back out to stand on the porch.

I was raised here. My name is Tathan.

Tathan? . . . I know that name. You’re Ellin’s son, left some fourteen years ago. Welcome home, Nephew. My name is Sherrie and this is my daughter, Liselle. Will you join us for breakfast?

Are my mother and father home, and Mariah, my sister?

The two women look at each other in silence.

Apprehension chilled Tathan’s blood. Where are they?

Your mother is here, but . . . your father left his body to the ground some ten years ago. His body gave out. Sherrie clutched her apron in dismay. Seven years ago, your sister Mariah felt pain in her side for some days before she also died. I am so very sorry. Sympathetic tears welled in the eyes of both women.

Tathan felt his own tears roll down his cheeks.

Sherrie came forward with arms outstretched to share his grief.

Tathan ripped his sword out of its sheath. Its tip hovered an inch from her chin.

Sherrie fell backward to the ground. Fear replaced sympathy. She scrambled to her feet and dashed back to her daughter.

Tathan’s body had moved instinctively as it always did these days. He slammed his sword back into its sheath. I’m so sorry . . . I didn’t mean . . . Please, forgive me.

He fell to his knees, closed his eyes and saw memories of his father and sister smiling at him. Though he had known it would be a possibility, the knowledge they were gone brought misery.

Beware that sword, Scott!

Tathan wiped his eyes to see two men moving to guard the women. One had a pitchfork and the other wielded a thick piece of wood.

The man with the pitchfork moved forward in a defensive crouch. Here now, stranger, we won’t be asking for trouble nor will we be expecting any.

Sherrie grabbed his arm. He’s family, Scott. He’s also fast with that sword. I wouldn’t like to see you bleed, Husband.

Scott flashed Sherrie an irritated glance for doubting his ability to protect her. Family? Scott squinted at Tathan, then at Sherrie, then Liselle. He has the same grey eyes as you. I’ll believe he’s family.

Tathan ignored what Scott believed. My mother is here you said? And is she well? . . .

Sherrie clasped her hands. Oh yes. She’s inside! She yelled toward the house. Ellin! . . . Ellin, you must come out! Tathan has returned home to us.

Tathan wanted to move closer, but couldn’t bring himself to do so.

His mother came through the door and shielded her face against the sunrise. New wrinkles lined her eyes and the corners of her mouth. Tathan?

Sherrie helped her down from the porch. I believe it is, Ellin.

Tathan saw the resemblance between the sisters. His mother’s hair had gone completely grey.

Tathan? Is it really you? Disbelief slowed Ellin’s steps. Your eyes, they’re . . . haunted.

Hello, Mother. I’m so sorry about father and Mariah. A sob escaped his throat.

Ellin took him in a fierce embrace. Oh, Tathan.

After a few moments, they separated. Tathan dried his eyes with a sleeve while his mother dried hers on her apron. I’m sorry mother. I’m sorry I wasn’t here. I’m sorry I . . .

She patted his shoulder. Don’t worry yourself over what has gone before. They missed you, but we all knew you were a traveling spirit. How are you, Son? Ellin reached up to run fingers through his hair. You’re different, Tathan. Your eyes . . . What have they seen? Why are they so haunted, my Son? It was as though she wanted to ask a hundred questions without giving him time to answer any of them.

I . . . Tathan didn’t know what to tell her about his time away. So much had happened to him. So much she wouldn’t approve of. He removed his gloves and tucked them into his belt. So . . . this is my Aunt Sherrie and Cousin Liselle?

His mother stared at him for a moment and then turned to make introductions. Yes, and this is Scott, Sherrie’s husband. Laremy is Scott’s brother. They arrived after your father’s death.

Scott and Laremy came over to shake Tathan’s hand. They were both strong men with blond hair and blue eyes. Laremy looked to be the older brother. Tathan shook their hands and nodded to them each in greeting.

Tathan touched his mother’s hair and noticed the frailty of her aged skin. Aunt Sherrie mentioned breakfast? I’ve traveled a ways without a good meal.

Ellin smiled and took him by the hand. But of course. Come inside. Sit with us and tell us of your journeys.

As they walked inside, Tathan looked around to see that everything was still as he remembered. Well-used rugs covered the stone floor of the large living room. Chairs and a few small tables surrounded a central fireplace that held a warm morning fire. The ceiling was made of wood braced by thick beams stained dark brown. Old tapestries made by grandparents and great grandparents hung on stone walls. The quality was as fine as any owned by nobles whose houses he had snuck through while they slept.

Come to the dining room, Tathan. Breakfast is ready.

Aromas of cooking meat, eggs and fresh bread filled the house. He went through the opening and into the large dining room. The wooden floor, which had seen generations of feet, was swept and clean. More tapestries lined the walls in here as well. Tathan ran his fingers down the large wood table, wondering how many meals had been set upon it over the generations.

His Aunt Sherrie gestured to a chair on the near side of the table. Won’t you sit here?

He took the offered seat. The men sat at the ends of the table. The women brought the food in wooden serving dishes before joining. His mother took the chair to his right.

There were places where he had eaten amazing meals in his travels, but nothing ever seemed as good as home. He closed his eyes, savoring each bite.

I’d guess you like the food by the smile on your face, Cousin. Liselle wore a dark blue dress suitable for doing chores in, but kept her wavy black hair loose. Her eyes were grey, much like his, but gentler.

Tathan found his gaze drawn to a flower in her hair. It was bluish-purple in color and he got the distinct impression it was watching him as much as everyone else was.

Liselle was the sort of pretty young woman who would find an unpleasant life in many of the cities Tathan had visited. The thought made him look back down to the food on his plate.

His family exchanged concerned looks.

Sorrow crossed Ellin’s expression. You worry me, Son. I’ve said it twice and I say it again. You look haunted. What happened in your time away?

It was a difficult question to answer. Well . . . Tathan sighed. I . . . don’t know. A lot of things have happened. I’ve seen . . . things. He looked around the room for a way to escape the conversation. He found none. The world isn’t peaceful like it is here. Can we talk about something else?

Ellin smiled sadly. Of course, my dear Tathan. You’re here and that’s what matters. She took hold of his hand. It’s so good to see you. I’ve worried since you left.

Tathan returned both her smile and her grip.

How long are you here, Tathan? For good or just visiting? Laremy’s deep voice was warm and welcoming.

I don’t know. I didn’t realize I was coming home until I saw the trail through the mountains. Before I knew it, I was in the valley. Tathan left out the trouble he was escaping in the Western Kingdoms.

Scott gestured at the sword on Tathan’s hip. I probably wouldn’t be much of a challenge for you with my pitchfork, would I?

I’m sorry, Scott, but no. I . . . am dangerous when a sword is in my hand. Tathan didn’t want to hurt anyone, especially not his family. You may have noticed that I . . . He was pausing a lot. He didn’t like talking about himself. I’ll be careful not to hurt you. I promise.

Instead of reassuring his family, his words had the opposite effect. Tears of sadness flowed down his mother’s cheeks again.

Here now, Mother. Don’t cry for me. I’m fine, really.

Ellin fanned herself with her hand. Oh I know, dear. I see you’ve grown, but I also see that peace eludes you.

Tathan gave a short laugh. True, but I found the adventure I wanted. He took her hands in his and held them to his forehead. I love you, Mother.

Ellin sobbed into her son’s shoulder for a few moments.

Sherrie and Liselle dabbed at tears.

After finishing breakfast, they took their cups to the living room and talked for a bit about life in the valley. Weather was an important subject. Winter had been mild and spring had started strong, giving the men hope for good crops and gardens. Hunting and gathering supplemented small crops of vegetables and grains. The sheep that roamed provided food and wool. Life was good, if simple.

Tathan avoided talking about his travels when asked, preferring to listen to his family. He felt his eyes beginning to droop before long.

Laremy and I were going hunting for deer today. Scott retrieved a bow and quiver from a hook. We should get going if we want to be back before nightfall. Would you like to go with us, Tathan?

Laremy grabbed his as well.

No . . . Thank you. I haven’t had sleep in a couple of days, so I wouldn’t be much use to you. Tathan was tired, but it was a relaxed tired. It was good to feel warm and safe for the first time in what seemed like an eternity.

Sherrie stood to gather cups. Liselle, get your cousin set up in the east bedroom. He’ll be comfortable there, I’m sure.

Yes, Mother. Liselle jumped to her feet. You probably know where it is, but I’ll show you anyway. She beamed a smile at Tathan.

Thank you. I’m exhausted, so there’s a good chance I’d get lost. He got the chuckle he hoped for.

Once in the room, she turned down the covers and closed the shutters. Liselle looked to be a couple of inches shorter than his six feet of height. There, it should be nice and dark for you to sleep. Her voice was like a soft stream running through the forest. I’d love to hear about the places you visited. They must be wonderful. Her eyes lit up and she clapped her hands in excitement.

They’re exciting . . . but not always wonderful. The idea of seeing them may sound fun now, but were you to visit those places . . . He shook off dark thoughts. I’m sorry. It’s not good for me to scare you.

My father and uncle try to scare me about it all the time. A wistful sigh escaped her lips. I want to see the world. I know it’s dangerous, but I don’t care.

I felt the same way when I left and would do it again. Tathan ran his fingers through his hair. This is home, but it’s not exciting. There’s no adventure.

Then you think I should be allowed to explore the world? Liselle looked hopeful at the thought of an ally.

No. It’s a bad place and most people die. Tathan realized that was an overly harsh view of the world, but it was how he had come to feel.

Oh. Her shoulders slumped. Of course. Well, I should get to chores now. Mother will be wanting my help.

Tathan placed a gentle hand on her upper arm. If you wish to explore the world, then you can always go. There comes a point where your life is yours to live even though it may hurt others.

Really? Liselle bit her lower lip in thought. I don’t know what to do. Mother wants to take me to Rothton to find a husband. She rolled her eyes in exasperation.

That’s where my mother is from, which means Aunt Sherrie is from there too, right? She never told me she had a sister.

Your mother left on bad terms with our grandparents. She shrugged. I don’t want to get married. I want to explore the world, have adventures and find a handsome prince! Liselle twirled with her arms in the air.

I understand. That’s exactly how I felt when I left . . . well, minus the part about the handsome prince. He grinned.

Oh, but you would make such a lovely bride. Her laughter was bright and innocent. She flopped on the bed. "I really don’t want to go to Rothton to find a husband. What am I to do, Tathan?"

Why was she asking him? I’m not sure. It seems like women are always supposed to get married, men too I suppose. My parents wanted me to go to Rothton to find a wife. Father was upset when I refused.

I didn’t know that.

He didn’t hold on to his anger. Father realized I was going to leave. He sat with me and told me what little he knew of the world. Then he let me know he loved me.

I don’t think my father will be quite so understanding. Liselle sprang to her feet. Get some rest. I’ll wake you when dinner is ready. She left the room, closing the door behind her.

Tathan sat on the bed a little longer. After a bit, he went to the window and opened the shutters. It was a beautiful day. Birds in the trees sang their lovely songs. Flowers were in bloom and their fragrance filled the air. There were far more flowers than he remembered. Tathan took a deep breath then exhaled, letting tension flow from his body. It was nice to relax for the first time in ages.

He stayed at the window for a time before going to bed. The covers were soft and smelled of spring air. Tathan drew his sword and lay it down next to him as usual, but couldn’t sleep. Getting up, he sheathed his sword and leaned it against the nightstand. A moment later, he was resting peacefully.

Chapter 2

Tathan . . . Tathan . . .

He heard the voice and wondered who was calling him.

Tathan, wake up. Breakfast is ready.

He mumbled while pulling the covers over his head. The bed was too warm to leave.

Tathan, please wake up. The covers were pulled down.

He sat up abruptly, wondering where he was.

A young woman stood beside the bed, watching him while caressing a violet flower in her hair. Soft morning light shone through the open shutters.

In a panic, he realized that his sword wasn’t next to him. He searched frantically for it in the sheets before seeing it against the nightstand. Tathan grabbed it and held it in his lap, running his fingers along the hilt and crossbar.

Are you all right, Cousin? There was worry in her eyes as she stared at him.

He remembered. The young woman was Liselle and he was home in the valley. Tathan had slept on the road for so long that he had forgotten how marvelous a soft, warm bed could be. Yeah. I’m all right. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. Did you say breakfast?

Yes. We tried to get you for dinner last night, but you wouldn’t wake up. Aunt Ellin said to let you sleep. Liselle looked nervously at the sword. She said that if you didn’t wake up for breakfast, she was going to dump a bucket of water over your head. She’ll do it too.

She did it more than once when I was growing up, he admitted with a grin.

Liselle chuckled and relaxed a bit. Yeah. She’s done that to me a couple of times too. I make it a point to wake up before her now.

That’s probably a good idea. I never succeeded. I liked sleep too much when I was younger. Tathan stood. For a moment, he considered leaving his sword against the nightstand, but attached it to his belt instead. It had become a part of him.

Do you need to carry that? Liselle pointed at it with obvious distaste. You’re safe here.

Tathan ran his fingers along the steel wrapped hilt once more. The sword was black as night from tip to pommel. The sheath was made of the same dark metal. Unseen to the naked eye were runes that traveled the length the blade.

Yes. I must carry it always. Tathan’s voice deepened as he spoke. I . . . found it . . . in a dark place. It has magic and they want it . . . He caressed the hilt.

Liselle shivered and hugged herself. She took a step toward the door.

Tathan saw the movement and looked up. When he saw the look on his cousin’s face, he shook his head to clear the dark thoughts. I’m sorry, Cousin. Something’s been chasing me for this sword . . . That was more information than he had intended to share.

Tathan took a deep breath and stepped toward Liselle.

She backed into the doorjamb.

I’m sorry I scared you. He stared at his hands.

Liselle took a deep breath of her own before moving forward. She gave him a quick hug. Hurry before breakfast gets cold. With that, she headed out of the room and down the stairs.

It must have taken a lot of courage for her to do that. He didn’t follow right away, instead going to the window. The sun had risen above the eastern mountains and begun warming the cool air. Birds sang their early morning songs. That had always irritated him as a child. What right did they have to be so happy in the morning while he wanted to sleep? Now, however, the sound brought a half-smile to his face. It didn’t last long, but it tried.

Tathan looked down at the flowers.

They stared at him.

It was his turn to shiver. There were definitely more flowers around the house than when he was a child. He pushed away from the sill and headed downstairs.

The aroma of cooking food swirled around his head, dragging him into the dining room where breakfast and family awaited him. Everyone else had already filled their plates and begun eating.

There you are, Tathan. I thought for certain that I was going to have to get a bucket of water from the brook. His mother winked.

He grinned and sat next to her, filling his plate with food. Mealtimes were always casual. They didn’t pray to gods like many people in the cities he had visited. Instead, everyone took a share of food and ate until full. Anything leftover was eaten later in the day, saved for the next, or fed to the animals.

Liselle gave him a tentative smile.

He tried in vain to return it.

She giggled. What in the world are you doing to your face, Cousin?

Tathan sighed. I’m trying to smile. It doesn’t seem to be going well, does it? It’s been too long.

His mother put a kind hand on his shoulder. Stay with us and learn how to smile again.

The thought of living out his life in the serene