Batting third, and the last of my primary point-of-view (POV) characters in The Island of Kvorga: the second son of Danavin… Javen Thornhill.
I won’t say a whole lot by way of introducing Javen except to say that he is very much a character of conflict.
All characters, whether primary POVs or secondary POVs, antagonists or protagonists, good or bad, are to one degree or another, characters of conflict. Would there be a story if there was no conflict? Yolken’s conflict continues to get fleshed out in this sequel to The Path of the Synthesizer. So does Hadie’s. In The Island of Kvorga, their personal conflicts force them to travel down paths they don’t want to go down. Neither wish to be where they are or where they’re going. They just want things to be back to normal. Yolken, you will find, often wishes he can just go home. Almost annoyingly. But Javen… He ends up exactly where he wants to be and yet he is not free of conflict. And whereas Yolken faced a difficult decision at the end of The Path of the Synthesizer–a decision that potentially forever altered the path forward for his life–Javen finds himself facing a similar decision in The Island of Kvorga.
I won’t say anymore. Perhaps I’ve said too much. I don’t want to spoil the story after all.
With that I invite you to enjoy Javen’s opening scene in The Island of Kvorga.
Javen’s eyes opened and he stared blankly at the wooden planks above him. He sobbed in relief—the nightmare was finally over. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had such a vivid dream. Over and over Astora died any number of horrible deaths. Despite his efforts, he was never able to save her. He was always one step too slow. For a moment he thought only of the rough wood over his head. Then, all too quickly, images of Astora’s lifeless body flooded his mind: her pleading eyes; the way she choked on her own blood as she gasped for breath; the horrible wound on her neck. He tried to push them away, but they continued to haunt him even though he was awake, as vivid dreams sometimes do. Then he realized he wasn’t looking at the ceiling of the carriage Dorlan gave him back in Matis.
He tried to sit up, but his body protested. He became acutely aware of the aches in what felt like every muscle in his body. Worse, his head pounded as if he’d spent all night drinking Yolken’s strong ale, and his hands and forearms itched. Slowly, he was able to coax his legs onto the well-worn planks of the floor and sat up. He scratched at his arms and weakly said, “Hadie?”
His head pounded so he squeezed his eyes closed and pressed the palms of both his hands into his skull, just above his temples. He tried to remember what he’d spent the previous night doing, but he had no recollection of drinking. When the throbbing eventually abated, he opened his eyes and looked around.
He was alone in a small room. The floor and walls were of the same wood as the ceiling. An unlit oil lantern swung from the ceiling. There was a small desk against the wall to his right and an armoire to his left. He rose slowly to his feet and realized he was naked. He stumbled over to the armoire, which had clumps of grapes and vines carved throughout the wood. Inside hung three shirts and three pairs of pants, none of which belonged to him. They all swayed slightly on their hangers. Javen looked at them curiously, then the floor heaved beneath him.
Javen shoved the armoire doors closed and held onto the knobs. What in the world? he thought as he tried to steady himself. Am I on a ship? He had never been on a ship before, but he could think of no other explanation for why the floor beneath him might be moving. The floor lurched and threw him backward. He held onto the knobs and his momentum pulled the doors open. He fully expected to pull the armoire down on top of himself, but it didn’t fall—it held his weight as he pulled against it. As he held on, arms outstretched, he noticed that the pigmentation of his hands and forearms didn’t match the rest of his arms. They were pale, like they were after a winter of wearing coats.
What in Draego’s Fire?
When he regained his balance he carefully stepped back over to the bed. The floor lurched again, forcing him to grab the wooden bed frame. He climbed onto the mattress and looked out the round window above the bed.
Except for hazy mountains way off in the distance, water was all he could see in both directions.
He was definitely on a boat.
“What in Draego’s Fire,” he said, sitting back down on the bed. Had he drunk so much he just couldn’t remember getting on a boat? That would explain his pounding headache. But he was nowhere near water. The caravan was still days away from Portstown, which was the nearest body of water. And where was Hadie? He struggled to remember the last thing he’d done, but the only thing he could remember was… Astora.
It started coming back to him.
He remembered Drenan emotionlessly drawing a knife across Astora’s throat. Drenan told him to heal her. But he couldn’t use his gift. And Drenan knew that. Javen remembered begging Drenan to save her life while he tried to stop the blood flow. But Drenan had goaded him instead. “Your brother, when confronted with a dying girl, used the gift that was his birthright and healed her. Are you telling me he is better than you?” Javen remembered Astora’s eyes pleading for help as she struggled to breathe. He remembered watching her life slip away and then Drenan callously walking away, telling him to return the next day for another lesson. And after that… he couldn’t remember.
But the images of Astora overwhelmed him. As he scratched at his hands, a familiar feeling that accompanied too much drinking caused him to slide off the bed. He doubled over on the wood flooring and vomited. More and more he was beginning to think he had tried to drink away his grief. For a while, he didn’t move. He just stared at the mess on the floor, spitting in it occasionally as his mouth filled with saliva, and tried not to think of Astora.
Javen wiped his mouth on the back of his hand when the nausea passed. He went back to the armoire and selected a shirt and a pair of pants. When he was dressed, he went to the door and tested the knob. It turned. He cracked the door open and peered out into a narrow, dimly lit hallway. He pushed it open further and saw another door directly across from him. The door was open, so he stepped across the hallway and peered in. At least a dozen rope hammocks hung from the ceiling. There were also barrels in each corner as well as several small wooden chests. There was a third door at the end of the hall. It appeared statelier than the coarse doors leading into the other rooms and was adorned with the same carved grapes and elaborate vines as the armoire. At the opposite end of the hallway was a steep and well-worn staircase.
Javen decided to go up above and turned toward the stairs. He held his hands out to both sides, using the opposing walls to brace himself against the roiling of the ship, while he made his way down the short hallway. When he took his first step up the steep stairs, he heard a voice call out from behind him, “Master Javen! You’re awake!” He turned to face a dark-haired man tying a sash around a plush white robe. He recognized the man as the other regent traveling in Dorlan’s caravan: Devin.
“Where are we?” Javen said.
“Two days’ sail from Portstown,” Devin said.
Devin walked the length of the hall with his hands tucked into the front pockets of his robe. Unlike Javen, he didn’t rely on the walls for balance. He was as sure-footed on the ship as Javen was on land.
“Where are we going?” Javen said. His hands and arms felt like ants were crawling over them. He tried to resist the urge to scratch at them but couldn’t.
“The feeling will pass. It’s a side effect from the healing.”
“And we’re going to Onta.”
“Where’s Hadie? Why are you taking me to Onta?”
“Come, join me in my quarters. There’s plenty of time for questions, Master Javen. But for now, let’s get you something to eat. I’m sure you’re famished.”
The mention of food made Javen painfully aware of the fact that he was indeed hungry. He followed Devin back down the hall and into the room at the end, again using the walls for balance.
The room was considerably larger and much brighter than the other two. There were large windows on both sides of the room, as well as at the back. In addition to all the windows, on the back wall was a pair of open side-by-side doors that led out to a small balcony. A chandelier was mounted in the middle of the ceiling with about two dozen small, unlit lanterns hanging from it. Elaborate moldings encircled the room, adorned with the same carven grapes and vines as the door, and each corner featured an ornate column carved from thick logs. As he stepped further into the room, he noticed the furniture was much more elaborate as well. Everything—the armoire, the cabinets, the desk—was larger and elaborately engraved. Then the table dividing the room captured his attention.
Javen pulled back one of the many chairs surrounding the table and looked at the platters of food. One of them was piled with various fruits—apples, oranges, sliced melon, and strawberries—and the other held a small pig. As hungry as he was, he couldn’t help but notice the curiously dark, almost black, wood of the table. He ran his hand across it, then noticed that the rest of the furniture in the room was made of the same material.
“Made from the finest wood in the empire,” Devin said.
“What is it?” Javen said. He’d never seen anything like it before.
“It’s made from the giant Kvorgan spruce. It’s rare, and rather difficult to procure.”
“It’s very nice,” Javen said, running his fingers over the grains of the dark wood.
“Help yourself to anything on the table.”
Javen picked up a plate, which had a grape motif encircling the perimeter, heaped it with slices of pork, then filled the remaining space with fruit. He set the plate down, then inspected two decanters and a matching ewer sitting next to the platters. The decanters contained wine and the ewer, water. He chose the water.
When Javen sat down to eat, Devin sat on a large, curved couch set in the corner of the room. Javen picked up a green apple and bit into it. Its tartness exploded in his mouth, washing away the taste of bile. Before he got halfway through the apple, movement out of the corner of his eye drew his attention. He nearly choked on the apple when he saw it was a half-naked woman entering from the balcony. She had dark hair and olive-colored skin. Her hands were clasped at her belly and her arms supported a robe that hung openly around her waist, fully exposing her chest. Javen recognized her from Lonely Oak, and from their stay at the Blue Mountain in Matis: Karina, Devin’s wife. He tried not to stare, but his eyes were drawn to her breasts like a moth to a lantern. Hadie would be furious if she knew.
“Greeting, Master Javen,” Karina said as she walked up to him. “I was beginning to wonder if you were ever going to wake.”
Javen averted his eyes, looked at his plate of food, and scratched at his arms.
“Rise and greet a lady properly,” Karina said.
Javen looked over at Devin in question. Devin gestured toward Karina with a wave of his hand. Javen hesitantly pushed his chair back and stood, even though he didn’t know the proper way to greet a half-naked lady. He awkwardly turned toward her but kept his eyes on his plate. Karina stepped closer and pressed her body against his. She cupped his chin and turned his head to face her. Then she wrapped her arms around him—one around his back, the other behind his head—and kissed him on the mouth. Javen was beside himself, but with her hands pulling him in as they were, and not wanting to forcefully shove her away, he was powerless to refuse. He felt like he was in one of Hadie’s books.
When Karina finally pulled away, she said, “Caring for you as I have these past couple of days has made me anxious for you to awaken. I’m glad you finally have.” She turned and walked around the table toward the couch, leaving Javen staring after her blankly. She sat next to Devin and crossed her legs.
The two strange individuals began speaking too quietly for Javen to hear so he awkwardly returned to his seat. When it became evident to him that they were done talking with him, he picked up the apple and took another bite. That was really weird, he thought. She’s his wife. Were the stories in Lovers true?
When he finished a second plate and set his fork down, Devin said, “Pour yourself some wine and join us on the couch.”
Javen wiped his mouth with a napkin, then filled a wide crystal glass with wine from one of the decanters. Devin and Karina were sitting together on one side of the curved couch, so he sat on the other side. He ignored the feeling of ants crawling on his arms as best he could.
“Do you know who we are?”
Javen nodded. “Devin and Karina Drake.”
“Dorlan told me you were familiar with the family.”
“My aunt made sure we knew who the Blessed were.”
“Knowledge is a valuable asset,” Devin said.
At the thought of his aunt, Javen felt pangs of remorse. He frowned and looked down at the wine glass he was holding in his lap.
“Dorlan told me what happened. My deepest apologies, Javen.” Devin held his own wine glass up in Javen’s direction and said, “To your aunt.” Javen looked up and Devin took a drink.
Javen took a drink as well. “I wish she didn’t have to die. My parents, either.”
“Justice is often painful. But let us not dwell on the past,” Devin said. “My wife and I were just—”
“Where’s Hadie?” Javen said, regretting interrupting Devin the moment he spoke. Drenan would have berated him, if not worse, for being impertinent.
“Gone,” Devin said, seemingly undisturbed by the interruption.
“Gone? Gone where?”
“This ‘Hadie’ you speak of—was the woman with you in the caravan?” Karina said.
“Yes,” Javen said. “What happened to her?”
“She was a pretty lass. There were several nights I thought about inviting the two of you to spend the night in our carriage, but Devin said it was improper.”
“Because you’re married!”
“Actually, it was because you were not under his command. That’s changed now, though, hasn’t it?”
“So they’re true?”
“Is what true?”
“The books Hadie read.”
“What books are those?” Karina said with a wink.
Javen blushed and looked at Devin.
“Please,” Karina said. “I truly am curious.”
Javen looked back at Karina and said, “The Lovers of Onta.”
“Ah, yes.” Karina placed her hand on Devin’s thigh and said, “We’re familiar with Rongin’s work. What did you think?”
“I hope for nothing less.”
“I think half the reason Hadie insisted on reading them to me was that she enjoyed how much they embarrassed me.” Javen tried to keep his eyes on Karina’s. It was one of the hardest things he’d ever had to do.
“Why? Are you not experienced in the art of proper bedding?”
“Proper bedding!” Javen exclaimed. This really was too much. He looked away from them, feeling his face warming. He couldn’t take any more of Karina’s overt display. He took a deep drink of his wine.
“Well,” Karina said, standing, “it sounds as though you gentlemen have a lot to discuss, so I’ll leave you to speak in private. But worry not, Master Javen, I’ll be just out on the balcony.” Any confusion he might have had about what she meant was gone when she bent over in front of him and leaned in until her mouth touched his ear. With nowhere to avert his eyes, he squeezed them shut. “Perhaps one day Rongin will write a Lovers featuring the two of us,” she whispered into his ear. Javen’s eyes popped open in complete disbelief, but her breasts were mere inches from his face, so he immediately closed them again. She kissed him on the mouth, then said, “See you soon, Master Javen.”
Javen breathed a sigh of relief when she walked away. She refilled her wine glass at the table, then sauntered back out onto the balcony.
“I suppose you’re wondering what happened to your arms and why you’re on a boat sailing for Onta,” Devin said, continuing their conversation as if what had just happened was perfectly normal.
Javen tore his attention from the open doors Karina had walked through. He looked back to Devin and nodded.
“Dorlan has placed you into my care.”
“I thought I was under Drenan’s care?”
“You were. However, after what happened, Dorlan saw fit to transfer your care to me.”
Javen thought about the sole horrifying time he’d met with Drenan for a lesson. The unsettling feeling in his stomach started building again, so he quickly changed the subject. “What happened to Hadie? Where is she?”
“You need not concern yourself with her.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that she’s gone.”
“She left?” Javen said. Suddenly, he was afraid she’d heard what happened and didn’t want to be with him anymore.
“It was never Dorlan’s intention for her to be with you in the first place. So he sent her away.”
“What do you mean he ‘didn’t intend for her to be with me’?”
“Drenan was sent back to Lonely Oak to retrieve whomever it was that had Synthesized. You were obviously of interest, but why he went out of the way to bring her along as well, he has yet to say. Knowing my brother, his plans for her were likely similar to those for that other lass.”
Javen cringed at the thought. Even though he hadn’t originally planned on seeing Hadie for any longer than the time she stayed in Lonely Oak, he had grown attached to her. “Doesn’t it matter what I might want?”
“Apparently, according to Drenan, she is the disgraced daughter of a Silk. A regent would never associate with the likes of her. You’ll find that there are many more suitable choices once we arrive in Onta.”
Javen hadn’t realized that. He wondered why she never mentioned her parents were Silks. “But I’m not a regent.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that if you’re training is successful, I will escort you to Kyinth to meet the emperor.”
Javen stared at Devin in disbelief. Was he dreaming? He couldn’t even begin to explain what was happening to him. First, waking on a ship headed for Onta, not knowing how he got there; then the weird way Karina had acted; and now this. He had so many questions but didn’t know where to start. So he simply said, “Why?”
“You succeeded in accessing your gift,” Devin said. “So he wants to meet you.”
Javen stared at Devin, dumbfounded. “I Synthesized?”
“Let’s just say that you came into your ability… explosively. Which explains the new skin on your arms.”
Devin explained to Javen the events that had taken place over the last several days—specifically Javen’s response to Drenan killing Astora, and why he didn’t remember anything that happened after.
“But I still don’t understand why the emperor would want to meet me,” Javen said.
“Your father was a rebel, but he was also a powerful Synthesizer. Naturally, the son of such a person would pique the curiosity of His Blessed Highness.”
“But what would he want to have to do with me? I always thought the Regency dealt swift punishment to anyone associated with the rebels.”
“Were you associated with the Order?” Devin said.
“Then there you have it.”
“So then what does the emperor want with me?”
“As the head of the empire, Drakonias is the only one with the authority to elevate someone to the status of regent.”
Javen’s eyes went wide.
“Don’t be so surprised,” Devin continued. “That’s how it’s been done since the beginning of the empire. If you wish to become a regent, then you must stand before Drakonias.”