The Demon in the Wood (The Grisha 0.1)
For the readers—thank you for wanting to know more
THE DEMON IN THE WOOD
How many were there, Eryk?
It was a stranger’s voice, speaking a stranger’s name. But through the haze of pain, he remembered. His mother had given him his new name on the way up the mountain, as the wind blew down from the pass, rustling the needles of the pines. The northerners will want to call you Eryk, she’d said. He’d pulled the furs up around his ears and thought, They won’t want to call me anything.
He managed to open one of his eyes. He could feel the crust of blood tugging on his lid. The other must be swollen shut. Had someone broken his nose? He couldn’t remember.
He was lying on a stretcher. Two men were leaning over him, and they wanted answers.
“How many?” asked the man with the red-gold beard, the Ulle.
“Six,” he managed. “Maybe seven.”
The other man leaned closer. Eryk had only seen Annika’s father from afar, but he recognized him well enough now—his hair nearly white like hers, his eyes the same bright blue. “Fjerdan or Ravkan?”
“They spoke Ravkan,” he croaked. His throat was raw. Because I was screaming when they pushed me under.
“Enough.” His mother’s voice, cool and hard as a diamond.
Madraya. He was embarrassed by the relief that rushed through him. You’re not a child, he told himself. But he felt like one, lying there in his wet clothes, cold and helpless.
Eryk forced himself to turn his head so he could see her. His skull beat with a red rhythm, each pulse driving the pain deeper in jagged shards. He tried to blink it away.
His mother’s face was creased with concern, but he recognized the watchful look in her eyes too. They were the newcomers—they were always the newcomers—and when things went bad, they were the easiest people to blame.
“We need to evacuate the camp,” said Annika’s father. “If they found the children last night—” His voice broke.
“We’re not going anywhere,” growled the Ulle. “We’re going to raze that village and take ten of their children for every one of ours they took.”
“We don’t have the soldiers for an attack. We must use caution—”
The Ulle’s voice rasped like a sword drawn from its sheath. “My son is dead. So is your daughter. My caution perished with them.”
“What were you even doing out here, Eryk?” Annika’s father asked miserably.
“Swimming.” He knew how foolish that sounded.
The Ulle pointed an angry finger at him. “You never should have left the camp after dark.”
“I know,” Eryk mumbled. “We were just … I only wanted…” He met his mother’s eyes and had to look away, the shame was so great.
“They were being children,” she said.
The Ulle turned to her. “If we’re to mount an attack, we need your strength.”
“First I see to my son.”
“His leg is nearly severed. We have Healers—”
His mother’s look was enough to silence the Ulle, even in his grief, even in his rage. Such was her power.
The Ulle gestured to his men and the stretcher was lifted. Eryk’s head spun. A wave of nausea gripped him. His mother took his hand and pressed his knuckles gently to her cheek. He had to tell her.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
This time she was the one to look away.
“The northerners will want to call you Eryk,” his mother said over the howl of the wind. It sighed down through the passes, singing its old song, promising winter, troubled like a man tossing in his sleep.
They won’t want to call me anything, he thought, but all he said was, “Why? I was supposed to be Arkady.”
“If we’re to be from the south, you need a southern name like Arkady. But Eryk will fit better on their tongues. They’re Fjerdan here as much as Ravkan. You’ll see. Now, what’s your name?”
“Where are you from?”
She didn’t ask the next question, the question strangers always asked: Where is your father? Of course, that one was easy because the answer never changed. He’s dead. He’d once asked his mother if that was the truth, if his father was really dead.
He will be, she’d said. Before you can blink your eye. You’ll outlive him by a hundred years, maybe a thousand, maybe more. He’s only dust to you.
Now she said, “Again. What’s your name?”
“Where are you from?”