About Rafen (The Fledgling Account Book 1)
When Rafen was four, the Tarhians branded him with three little numbers: 237. Forced to work in the coal mine with King Talmon’s other slaves, Rafen became just another nameless entity. But at age seven, he dreamed he would receive the feather of a phoenix–and the dream changed his life.
By the time he is twelve there are only four years left until King Talmon’s master Lashki Mirah makes Rafen his personal slave. If Rafen does not escape soon, he never will. Then King Talmon captures the princess Etana Calista Selson, who is destined to become queen of Siana. Lashki Mirah has long had designs on the Sianian throne and he is planning the murder of both the king and Etana his heir. Rafen learns that if he frees Etana from the Tarhian palace, she may ask her father the king to rescue Rafen from Talmon in return.
Now everything depends on Etana reaching her father and bringing him to Tarhia to release Rafen. But Rafen’s execution is in seven days and it looks like the only miracle he will see in that time is the revelation of what his name means–and why people want to kill him.
Rafen knew he had lost something. He just hadn’t known what it was – until now.
He was running beneath the invisible roof of a huge cavern. The dusty air around him was filled with the light of the Phoenix Rafen could sense but couldn’t see. Skidding through rocks and stones, he glimpsed a village of tribal shelters amongst whispering trees down the crags to his left. Yet his focus was magnetically drawn again to one thing: the phoenix feather he ran for. There were only four, and were only ever going to be four. They drifted down through the haze ahead of the two stronger, swifter contestants before him.
He would never make it first. He was a boy, and those he competed with were grown men.
About fifty years of age, Fritz was long-limbed and tall. His regal face – lined with a faint ash-colored beard – had the unmistakable mark of one who had seen the Phoenix, who understood why he was wearing flesh. It was plain to see why he was in the lead.
A few years shy of thirty, Thomas loped easily behind Fritz. His slight figure wove around the rocks, his shoulder-length black hair streaming behind him. Sometimes, Thomas’ thin build seemed to vanish altogether for seconds before appearing again.
And then there was Rafen, frantically struggling to catch up, his feet pounding the ground, sending rocks and pebbles sliding. Even though Rafen was seven, he was the height of a five-year-old because of malnourishment. His bones stuck out beneath his torn, rust red calico shirt. Beneath the smeared layer of black dust from the coal he worked with, Rafen’s once olive skin was pale and blotchy from years spent in darkness. Rafen never saw the sun, his life being spent either in the coal mine, in his cell, or in the corridors and tunnels between. How he had gotten here was a mystery. His tousled hair was curly and black and terribly filthy, and a lot of it fell over his quiet, dark blue eyes. His young face was set in hard lines. He had found what his heart longed for, and was determined to have a phoenix feather.
Even as Rafen watched Fritz and Thomas, the rod-thin figure of a sixteen-year-old swerved out from behind some rocks ahead of them. He seized a feather as it fluttered to the earth, crushing the golden barbs in his closed fist.
Rafen felt his blood burn within him. Though his legs were heavy with exhaustion, he quickened his pace. The sixteen-year-old glanced at him. His dark brown, curly hair framed a hard, lined face with eyes a pitiless black. The boy stepped into the shadows of the rocks to his right.
Fritz, who had been first until the sixteen-year-old had appeared, caught his phoenix feather second. He clutched it to his heart, the creases in his face slipping away and his once gray beard and shoulder-length hair turning sandy.
Thomas was still ahead of Rafen. Rafen felt like he was running through water; his own phoenix feather never got any closer. The footsteps of another unseen competitor pursued him.
Thomas halted behind Fritz, his shoulder-length black hair tangled. He snatched the third feather from the air, a smile spreading on his pale face. New courage shone in his squinting, green-blue eyes.
Recklessly, Rafen sprang into the air, throwing himself forward, reaching with everything in him toward the last phoenix feather falling through the air behind Thomas…
A disorientated bang. He crashed to the limestone floor of his cell, and his knees seared. He was in the dark again. He glanced around with big, shiny eyes at his broken bench, the moldy handful of straw that served as his bed, and the crude door that had his cell’s only window in it. It had been a vivid dream.
He nearly screamed. He saw his life laid out like a map and felt he understood.
After King Talmon had killed his parents, Rafen had lived in a cell from age two upward, and at four they had branded 237 on his ankle and forced him to work in the coal mine. King Talmon of Tarhia wanted many weapons, and for that, he needed coal to feed his smelters’ furnaces. Rafen had gone with the other child workers, following the men while they picked coal away from new tunnels in the mine. The children removed rocks from the tracks and loaded trucks with coal from five o’clock in the morning until night. Some worked the trapdoors, allowing drafts into the mine to shift any explosive gases. The others told Rafen they were ‘cheats’ because they didn’t work so hard. Mining was dangerous; five children died every week in any one working division. Lucky ones received four dry crusts of bread a day, and the big ones would wrest the food off them. Occasionally, a guard would approach the children with a bucket. He would draw out a ladle, brimming with water. The children became wild … little ones were often crushed in a fight for water. Rafen had received numerous injuries, the worst of which had been a broken jaw that had taken months to heal.
And so he had lived: 237, a little underground animal who did as he was told. Yet he itched. He shouldn’t have expected more, but he did.
He would probably be a slave all his life. Yet he wanted a phoenix feather; he was meant to have one. Somehow, he had been cheated.
He didn’t belong here.
The traditionally published New Zealand author of multiple books at age twenty-two, Y K Willemse is a committed Christian, serious coffee drinker, and sassy music teacher. Her Mum sealed her fate when she read six-year-old Yvette the book Dangerous Journey (a simplified version of Pilgrim’s Progress with surprisingly graphic pictures). First published in a teenage anthology at sixteen, Yvette has wanted to be an author for a long time.
At age ten, Yvette began writing her first book. She fully expected to be published by twelve. After realising how deluded she was, Yvette rewrote the book – and rewrote it – and rewrote it… At age seventeen, she gave up in disgust. Three months later, while cleaning a checkout at her supermarket job, she had the most incredible idea about slave labor. This idea was destined to change the way she had previously been writing Rafen. Rewriting the book one more time, Yvette sent it to a manuscript assessor. Then she contacted twenty literary agencies. Pontas International Literary and Film Agency (current agency of Alan Duff and Susan Abulhawa) signed Yvette for a period of two years when she was just eighteen. Two weeks before her twenty-first birthday, Permuted Press bought the rights to the first four books of The Fledgling Account series.
Homeschooled for the sum of her school years and later educated at Massey University, Yvette feels truly privileged to have the job of her dreams. She frequently writes her books while doing the splits and listening to weird music. She aspires to reawaken a love for epic fantasy in the hearts of her readers.
Yvette was a finalist in New Zealand’s Re-Draft competition, 2009. Additionally, she was top student in Massey University’s distance component of Editing and Publishing, 2012; and she was a finalist in the Innovation category of the Waikato Recognyz Youth Awards, 2013. Her writing has earned her interviews with newspapers and radio shows alike, including The New Zealand Herald and Radio Rhema.
“There was a lot of Providence in my writing journey,” Yvette says. “God gives me all my ideas and my opportunities. I’m really looking forward to the future. I hope it always contains stories.”
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