Rowen of Blue Hill

Readers have asked for more information about Rowen.

When we first meet her in The Shadow of Malabron, Rowen is nearly fourteen years old. She has pale red hair, dark green eyes, and stands about five feet tall.

Rowen lives in the city of Fable with her grandfather, Nicholas Pendrake the toymaker (and loremaster). The toymaker’s housekeeper, Edweth Little, has also looked after Rowen since she was a small child.

Nicholas Pendrake was married to a weaver and storyteller named Maya Siddarha, from a storyland far to the east of the Bourne called Jataka. They had one child, Gildred.

Gildred Pendrake grew up to become a knight of the Errantry, and was well-known in Fable for her courage, kind heart, and skill as a horsewoman. She married a man named Thomas James Rymer. He was a writer and artist from our world who stumbled into the Perilous Realm and sought Nicholas Pendrake’s help in getting back home (much as Will Lightfoot did many years later). In Fable, Thomas met Gildred and they fell in love, and had a child of their own, Rowen.

Thomas Rymer never returned to his own world. He and his wife and child went to live a quiet life at a farm north of the Bourne called Blue Hill (it was at this spot that Thomas had first entered the Realm). Since Gildred and Thomas were of two different worlds, they decided their child’s family name should be neither her father’s or her mother’s, and so they called her Rowen of Blue Hill, for the place where the two worlds had first met.

Nicholas and Maya Pendrake visited Blue Hill often to see their beloved grandchild. Maya often stayed at the farm for longer periods, after Pendrake’s duties as loremaster called him back to Fable. Maya looked after Rowen during those times when her parents were busy working the fields and tending to the animals on the farm.

When Rowen was two years old, a band of mordog and other Nightbane invaded the Bourne from the north. They burned and ransacked many farms and villages before the Errantry finally drove them from the land.

One of the farms the Nightbane attacked was Blue Hill. A smaller party of mordog came to the farm at dusk. The family dog gave one warning bark before a Nightbane arrow silenced it forever. Gildred was the warrior and so she went to meet the enemy while Thomas ran with Rowen into the woods behind the cottage. Thomas might have escaped with his daughter but he set her down in the concealment of a hollow under a fallen log and ran back to help his wife. They were both killed. Moth and Morrigan of the Tain Shee had been tracking the Nightbane -- they were too late to save Gildred and Thomas, but they found Rowen in the woods and brought her to Pendrake, who arrived not long after them with a contingent of Errantry knights. Pendrake took his granddaughter home with him to the toyshop in Fable.

Both Nicholas and Maya suspected that the attack had not been truly random. They feared that their granddaughter, a child of two worlds, had disturbed the threads of the Realm in such a way that dark powers had become aware of her and wished her harm. And so Maya decided to journey into the Weaving, the mysterious world-within-the- world from which all the threads of Story come. Her goal was to recover the lost, ancient wisdom of the Stewards, knowledge that might protect and help her beloved granddaughter.

Maya never returned from the Weaving, and so Rowen grew up under the care of her grandfather and Edweth the housekeeper. She turned out to be much like her mother in character: feisty, bold, and clever. Rowen loved her grandfather’s stories about her mother, and her greatest wish was to become a famous knight of the Errantry, just like Gildred.

Rowen loved to explore the fields and woods around Fable, and did so often without her grandfather’s permission. He still worried about the dark powers who wished Rowen harm, and so he tried to prevent her from going off alone, but Rowen was very inventive when it came to evading the rules of the house. It was on one of these unauthorized excursions that Rowen encountered a boy in danger, a boy from the strange world her father Thomas had also come from. 

The boy’s name was Will Lightfoot, and he was as startled to meet Rowen as she was to meet him….

“Rowen isn’t just some damsel in distress, like the Empress in The Neverending Story. She doesn’t sit idle while Will comes to her rescue. Rowen is more of a modern heroine, a character who should be a feminist icon in literature for young adults.”

Scott Hayes
St Albert Gazette

Illustration by T Wharton

Map of the Bourne

For my birthday I thought I'd give my readers a gift: a map of the northern half of the Bourne, which shows where Fable, Blue Hill, and other places important to The Perilous Realm are located.

This is not an "official" map. It's just the latest in a line of dozens and dozens of hand-drawn and computer-aided maps I've drawn over the last few years while writing the trilogy. I drew this one today, with so much snow falling outside we had to cancel a trip, so I decided I'd spend the time on a map. I was trying out a new art & design program, and didn't quite get everything to work right, as you can probably tell. Please feel free to use this as a rough guide for your own maps. There are no doubt some errors in it (for example I think the farm at Blue Hill is actually a little further east than this map shows. Also, the unlabeled river that flows out of the Wood and through the "n" in Bourne is the Bournewater).

The problem for me with maps & stories is that I love drawing maps and charts so much that I have to remind myself once in a while to stop with the maps and actually do the writing!

New maps of Story

The Book of Errantry has some good advice for travellers in the Perilous Realm:

“If you ever get lost, remember: either your map is wrong, or the world is.”

Travel in the world of Story is more difficult than in most other places, and not just because scary things tend to happen more often in stories than in what we call the real world. The Great Unweaving, the Broken Years, and simple time and change themselves have altered the Realm, and it keeps on changing each day, much to the frustration and bafflement of people simply trying to get from one place to another.

Just ask the professional quester Mimling Hammersong:

“The Realm has always been tricky, changeable, but it’s getting worse. There’s almost nothing you can place trust in anymore. The rivers, hills, trees, even the stones…. One thing I knew was stone. Stone is reliable. It stays in one place and doesn’t wander off. Or it didn’t used to. But now the old landmarks, even entire mountains, they’re either somewhere they’re not supposed to be, or they’re just gone.” (from The Fathomless Fire, Chapter 7)

Producing accurate, up-to-date maps of such places, needless to say, has to be a nightmare for cartographers.

It’s true that some parts of Story have been very well mapped: there are fine maps that pinpoint the exact spot in London where Sherlock Holmes lives, or trace the voyage of the Pequod across the oceans in search of Moby Dick, or identify the shores and villages that Raven the Trickster visits as he travels the world of the Haida.

But there are some landscapes of Story that just don’t translate well to a fixed system of geographical coordinates, and maybe that’s just the way it should be. When we enter a story we create our own mental map of it, which we may find differs from that of some other traveler, or the “official” map. Sometimes we change the story as we go through it, and so the only reliable map is the one we construct in our own heads along the way.

In video game terminology, the word map is sometimes used in a special way, to refer to a level in the game, or the whole world of the game. That is, the map isn’t a chart you follow to help you play, it’s the world of the game itself. That might be a useful idea to think about maps of Story, too. A map is the “virtual” world that you build in your head as you travel through a story.

There’s said to be an atlas lost somewhere in the deepest, darkest corridors of the library of Fable, an atlas of blank pages. The maps that you draw in this atlas become real places. The map actually creates the world. 

More about maps in the next post ...

Image: World Wildlife Fund Zoomorphic Map, 


Fathomless Fire review

A review of The Fathomless Fire by Lucy Silag in the Globe & Mail.

The reviewer wishes there was a map in the book. I agree! I wanted to include a map in the first volume, The Shadow of Malabron, but the publishers nixed the idea for some reason. This isn't the first request I've had for a map. The very first post on this blog has a rather crude map of the city of Fable. During the writing of these books I've made many maps for myself, and I would like to include one with the third book. Maybe if I start a petition, the publishers will change their mind...

At any rate, my next post will be about maps and the Realm of Story.

Mages and Loremasters

 Q. What’s the difference between a mage and a loremaster?

A. In many parts of the Realm, mage is the title given to someone adept in spellcraft and divination who offers his or her service to monarchs, governments, or cities in need of magical assistance. Mages provide protection against supernatural threats. They predict the future (once in a while they actually get it right), they solve riddles and uncover arcane secrets, and they offer sage advice (sometimes it’s actually good).

Many professional mages begin their training at the college of magecraft on the island of Kyning Rore. They then go on to have illustrious -- or infamous -- careers at royal courts. 

Sometimes mages who have different skills will band together as a guild or league and offer their services as a package deal. The people of Skald hired one such guild of mages, but the “deal” turned out to be a bad one for them. It has often been remarked that a kingdom was doing just fine until they hired a mage, and only then did all sorts of frightening and inexplicable things began happening. There are those who have even accused mages of stirring up or faking supernatural trouble and then stepping in to solve the problem, in order to trick the gullible.

A loremaster, in contrast, is someone who collects and tells stories. To some this seems like a far less important calling than that of a mage. But it mustn’t be forgotten that the Realm is a world made of stories. Magic comes in many different shapes and forms in such a world, and in some stories there is no magic at all. So the power of any mage or wizard or sorcerer is limited by the “laws” of the story they are part of. Whereas a loremaster studies and delves into the deep source of all magic and all stories: the fathomless fire.

This is the power to shape Story itself, and mages who do not understand this power use it unwisely, with disastrous results. The hasty and ignorant tend to disregard the work of loremasters in favour of the dazzling spectacles that some mages can put on.

Q. Why doesn’t the city of Fable have a resident mage or mage guild?

A. Some say this is because Fable isn’t important or wealthy enough to afford a true mage as advisor. No mage who wanted to make a name for himself would bother setting up shop in such an out-of-the-way place. There would be no renown (or money) in it.

Others suggest Fable has no mage because they’ve never had need of one. Fable has a resident loremaster, Nicholas Pendrake, a toymaker by trade. He may in fact be the last of the loremasters, although his granddaughter Rowen is said to have inherited much of his gift for Story.

The Broken Years

After the Great Unweaving unraveled the threads of Story, the Realm was plunged into a dark age during which much wisdom and knowledge was lost. No one can say how long these Broken Years lasted, because in that time, time itself was torn asunder.

The seasons no longer followed the yearly cycle that folk had lived by since time began. In some storylands winter refused to give way to spring. In others, summer lingered on and on, drying up rivers and withering crops. In many places the stars disappeared from the night sky, and the sun and moon rose at strange times and according to no rhythm or pattern that anyone could have faith in. Folk found that they had lost days, or years, out of their lives. Stories that had once been places of harmony and order descended into war, famine, and ruin. Many precious, irreplaceable stories, and storytellers, disappeared into silence.

It was during the Broken Years that the men and women known as loremasters first appeared in the Realm and fought against the darkness and the silence. They did not fight with swords or spears or devices of metal and fire. Their weapon was knowledge.

The loremasters journeyed through the Realm, learning all that they could of the ancient time of the Stewards, and sharing that lost wisdom with all they met. It was the loremasters who discovered the forgotten knot-paths that linked far-flung regions of the Realm, and the hidden refuges for travelers known as snugs. It was the loremasters who carried the light of the fathomless fire through the dark so that it did not utterly go out. And it was the loremasters who kept the memory of Story as it had once been, and could be again. With their tales and songs they rekindled hope, and mended the wounds of the Great Unweaving, and the shadows of fear and ignorance slowly drew back. It was said in later ages that these great loremasters told the disordered seasons into harmony once again, and even restored the sun and moon to their proper round in the heavens.

In the most lightless lands, the first star to reappear in the empty night sky was named the Waylight, in honour of the nameless loremaster who had gone about with his lantern, driving the creatures of darkness away and promising the people that the night could not last forever.

Malabron, the Night King, had been defeated by the Stewards, but not destroyed. He retreated into his kingdom of shadow, but during the Broken Years his power began to grow again. Much of the terror and loss of that time can be attributed to him. Malabron once more began to weave a story of his own into the fabric of the Realm, a tissue of lies that painted him as a saviour, a bringer of light who had been exiled by the jealous Stewards. And many who gave in to fear and despair in this time believed his story, and submitted to Malabron and became his willing servants.

It is the destiny of all mortal things to die and rejoin the Weaving, from which they may some day return, in new bodies and forms. Malabron deceived his followers with the lie that the Weaving did not exist, that there was only death and darkness beyond the grave, but if they followed him they could live forever. And so they refused the Weaving, and came to Malabron’s shadow country, and he did give them a life beyond death, but it was the lifeless, hopeless existence of the fetch.

Malabron hated the Tain Shee, the Fair Folk who had stood against him with the Stewards. But he hated and feared the loremasters almost as much, for they woke people up to his lies. So he sent his servants to hinder and destroy them. There had once been many loremasters, for they shared their treasure of lore with anyone who wished to learn it. But in time, as Malabron’s hunters did their evil work, few dared openly call themselves loremasters anymore. The few who survived and carried on did so at great peril and often in secret. They came to live in out-of-the-way places, and were known to folk only as farmers, tinkers, cobblers, healers… and toymakers.