I was finishing a sketch of the building in the copse when I heard the thudding of boots and the puff of heavy breathing from the direction of the path. It was no surprise when Grunthrin came into view. His expression was almost as dark as his face and yet the green eyes twinkled as he saw me and the painting.
“Hmm, not bad, for a youngling,” he growled in his deep voice. “Erm, can we go for a walk? Outside this place?”
I nodded. “Of course, I’ll just put my things in the workroom.”
A few minutes later we emerged into the stable yard, Grunthrin breathing a sigh of relief as his frown disappeared.
“Better,” he sighed. “Those trees really don’t agree with me. Now, youngling, I been wondering – what did you discover in that copse?”
“Well, it’s a walled garden, wild, untended, full of trees of many kinds, and beautiful,” I replied, curious as to why this mountain man should wish to know.
“Yes, I know that,” he grumped. “But I meant, did you find anything else? How did it make you feel?”
“Oh. Well, I almost felt at home there, if that makes any sense. And there’s the door, with the symbols, set in that ancient stone wall…”
Grunthrin nodded, seemingly satisfied. “Good. Come with me, I’ll show you the other side of that door, and explain whilst we walk… that’s if you wish to, of course?”
“Oh yes, please, I’m so curious, been thinking about that door and the wall all this morning… and how the copse came to be there… and why the Zigandi weren’t allowed to use it… and…” I stopped, realising that Grunthrin was looking exasperated.
“Yes, yes, all in good time,” he grumbled as he led me across the yard and into a side door of the main Guild Hall. After crossing the hall and trudging down several corridors he turned into what appeared to be a rarely used passageway, for cobwebs hung from the low ceiling and dust had accumulated on the stone floor. “This is one of the oldest parts of the Guild,” he explained as we walked. “Built by my people, the Targ. Well, the stonework, that is. But the courtyards, like this one you see through the arches here, that was planted and planned by the Shay.”
He waved his arm around the cloistered space we had entered as I stared at him in confusion. “The Shay? But they’re myth, legend.”
”Ah, many believe that to be so. Tell me, what do you know of the Shay?”
I shrugged. “A mystical race, ancient beings, according to the tales. Used to live in forests, shadowy creatures rarely seen.”
”Exactly. People who love the forest. People who seek the shadows.”
I stopped walking and stared at this Targ, hardly able to control my disbelief. “And you’re saying… that I… no, impossible!” I declared vehemently.
“That you may have Shay blood in your veins?” he announced, as if the statement was truth. “It’s perfectly possible, y’know, though very unusual. You wouldn’t be the first to be a cross between human and Shay. Now, come on, I haven’t got all day!”
Shaking my head and unable to comprehend what Grunthrin was telling me, I had to almost run to catch him up as he strode down a narrow corridor before unlocking a door, beckoning me to follow him through.
“Shay Hall,” declared Grunthin as we entered a long, narrow room of ancient stone, numerous skylights in the wooden ceiling flooding the whole room with autumn sunshine. Flagstones of red, gold and green covered the floor whilst colourful tapestries lined one wall. Dusty chairs huddled in disconsolate groups, with a few artworks and carvings displayed on even dustier desks.
And there, almost opposite the door we entered, was another – small, dark, carved with leaves and, just visible, symbols.
“The door to Alvin copse,” announced Grunthrin. “Not used, of course, not for decades. It’s opened by magic, Shay magic. Been no Shay here for that long.”
I gasped, not just at his words, but at the wonder of the room itself. Speechless, I wandered around the hall admiring the tapestries, the delicate wooden carvings, the wondrous paintings.
Grunthrin eventually spoke as I continued to look around. “The copse was planted by a Shay, named Alvin. It was meant only for Shay. Something about you led Alma, the Guildmistress, to believe you have Shay blood. Did you sleep well?”
Surprised at the question, I halted, turning toward him as I answered “Yes. Very. Shouldn’t I have?”
“Not if you had no Shay blood in you, no. The whole copse is warded. I, and others, may venture into the copse but we could never stay there for long, certainly not to sleep. Whether you like it or not, young Zentara Shadowsoul, you are, at least in part, Shay.”
To see illustrations, visit the same post on my Zentara’s Journey blog.