A Smoldering Silence
Identity formation can come from a wide variety of sources. Some days, we find ourselves particularly gripped by a lofty theological work. Other days, a work of fiction may leave us different then it found us. Today we highlight the latter. Andrew Peterson is a singer, songwriter, and author of the popular Wingfeather Saga. We are excited to share a brief excerpt from the third volume in the Saga, The Monster in the Hollows, which will be released in hardcover on October 6th.
It wasn’t a sound that woke Janner Igiby. It was a silence.
Something was wrong.
He strained into a sitting position, wincing at the pain in his neck, shoulders, and thighs.
Every time he moved he was reminded of the claws and teeth that had caused his wounds.
He expected to see the bearer of those claws and teeth asleep in the bunk beside him, but his brother was gone.
Janner took a deep breath and swung his feet to the floor. His wounds stung. His thighs were wrapped in bandages, and he winced when he saw the dark stains there. He shuddered at the cold memory: the shock of the icy water when he plunged in after Kalmar; the hot sting of claws digging into his thighs as the little Grey Fang kicked against his embrace; claws scraping against his back and tearing his shirt to shreds; and, worst of all, the sharp teeth as they bit into his shoulder and neck—his brother’s teeth. He expected to see the bearer of those claws and teeth asleep in the bunk beside him, but his brother was gone. Click To Tweet
The ship creaked and fell silent again. Since the day they had sailed away from the Ice Prairies, the ship had seemed like a living thing. It groaned like an old man sleeping; it coughed when the sails luffed; it sighed when they tacked into a happy wind.
And then there was the heartbeat of the ship: Podo Helmer. Janner’s peg-legged grandfather marched from fore to aft, starboard to port, the steady tap-clunk, tap-clunk of his footsteps beating deep into the night, keeping the ship alive and all its passengers with it.
But now the ship’s heart had stopped beating, and that was the silence that had woken Janner. Neither the odd calm of the waters, nor the silence of the crew, nor even Kalmar’s absence was as troubling as the utter stillness of Podo Helmer. It was as if the old man had disappeared.
Then, as if to confirm Janner’s sense of dread, there came to his nostrils the unmistakable smell of smoke. Janner stood, too fast, and the pain in his legs, neck, and back made him dizzy. But he didn’t care. He had to find out what was happening on deck, even if just to be sure that he wasn’t stuck in a nightmare.
Janner took three steps toward the stairs and the hatch flew open. Light poured into the hold.
“Janner! My boy, what are you doing out of bed?” Oskar N. Reteep’s round form filled the hatchway, blocking the sunlight like an eclipse.
“Mister Reteep, what’s wrong? Where did everybody go? Why do I smell smoke?” Janner took a step forward and winced as another pang shot up his leg.
Oskar jiggled down the stairs to Janner’s side. “Easy, there. That’s it, lad.” He took Janner by the arm and helped him forward.
Janner asked again, “What’s happening?”
Oskar pushed up his spectacles and wiped his sweaty pate. “Everything’s all right, lad. Everything’s all right.”
“If everything’s all right, why do I smell smoke? Are the Fangs back?”
Oskar waved his hand as they mounted the first step. “No, no. Those wolves are long gone. Your mother sent me to bring you topside.” Oskar’s face turned grave. “There’s something you need to see.” The Dark Sea of Darkness was vast and terrible to behold; it quickened his pulse and took his breath—and he knew in an instant that he loved it. Click To Tweet
Janner had always been impatient when it came to getting answers. With his legs hurt, the eight steps to the deck were likely to be an arduous journey, and he didn’t want to wait that long. “What is it? Please, Mister Reteep!”
“No, lad. This is a thing to see, not to hear about. Now bear up and come on.”
Janner took his old friend’s arm and eased his way up the steps into the sunlight. When his eyes had adjusted, he saw the open sea for the first time since they’d set sail. The effect was dizzying. The Dark Sea of Darkness was vast and terrible to behold; it quickened his pulse and took his breath—and he knew in an instant that he loved it.
The exhilaration faded when the breeze shifted and the sharp smell of smoke invaded his thoughts again. He pulled his eyes from the ocean and noticed that everyone on the ship was on deck, standing at the port rail, looking silently south at a cloudy sky. Standing among the crew was a tall, beautiful woman, her left hand on a little girl’s shoulder and her right on the shoulder of a little Grey Fang. Beside them stood Podo, shirtless and strong with what looked like a club in one hand.
Seeing them together gave Janner strength. He pulled away from Oskar and limped into his mother’s arms. His legs, neck, and back stung but he didn’t care anymore.
“Good morning, son,” Nia said, taking his face in her hands. She smiled at him, but there was grief in her eyes.
“Mama, what is it?” Janner asked. “Why won’t anyone tell me what’s happening?”
Nia helped Janner to the railing and pointed at the horizon. “Look.”
But Janner didn’t see anything unusual. The waters were eerily calm, as if the Dark Sea were holding its breath. It felt like their ship was trespassing. But that wasn’t anything to look at, was it? Everyone on the ship was staring at something, but Janner saw only clouds—then he remembered the smell of smoke, and he knew.
All the maps Janner had ever studied sped through his mind. He saw continents and countries fly past, with their rivers and borders and forests. He saw Skree and the Phoob Islands and the wide expanse of the Dark Sea of Darkness, and then he saw in his imagination their ship approaching the Green Hollows in the east. There, just to the south of where Janner guessed they might be, was a little island off the northwestern coast of Dang.
“Anniera,” said Janner. “The Shining Isle.”
“Aye, lad. Nine long years,” Podo said, “and it’s still burning.”
**Excerpted from The Monster in the Hollows. Copyright © 2020 by Andrew Peterson. Used by permission of WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.**