Authors: Sam Bowring
Sam Bowring is a television writer, playwright and stand-up comedian. He is the author of the Broken Well trilogy, as well
as several books for children, including
The Zoo of Magical and Mythological Creatures
Sam the Cat
. He lives in Sydney, Australia.
THE BROKEN WELL TRILOGY
STRANGE THREADS DUOLOGY
The Legacy of Lord Regret
The Lord of Lies
Published in Australia and New Zealand in 2012
by Hachette Australia
(an imprint of Hachette Australia Pty Limited)
Level 17, 207 Kent Street, Sydney NSW 2000
Copyright © Sam Bowring 2012
This book is copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of private study,
research, criticism or review permitted under the
, no part may be stored or reproduced by any process without
prior written permission. Enquiries should be made to the publisher.
A CIP catalogue record of this book is available
from the National Library of Australia.
978 0 7336 2812 2
978 0 7336 2987 7 (ebook edition)
Cover design by XOU Creative
Map design by XOU Creative
It’s been too long
Rostigan would not have picked the day. Oh, there had been signs to worry him over the years, but no one thought they were
ever coming back. Tales and memories, their names collecting dust on history’s pages, and everyone happier that way. Why they
would suddenly reappear – not one, or two, but
of them, at once … well.
A sunny day it was, even in the cave. Golden beams burst through holes in the roof, keeping the skitterers skulking in crevasses,
wondering what had happened to their usual dank sanctuary. And Rostigan, having hoisted himself up onto a rock shelf below
one of the wider openings, discovered treasure where the light fell. There, nestled between runs of moss and trickling water,
craning upwards with speckled clover-like leaves, grew a patch of curltooth.
He breathed out slowly, almost doubting what he saw. A rare and vague warmth wafted up from the deep place,
from the cavernous chambers and shadowed hallways of his self. It connected him to things forgotten – as if, for a moment,
he stood atop the tall tower of his life, aware of every stone and stairwell under his feet, while he looked out on a starry
He shook his head, lest reverie take him.
Reaching into his satchel for a small pair of scissors, he set about the delicate work of snipping the twine-thin stalks of
the curltooth. He had to be careful, for his hands were big and rough, his fingers barely fitting through the scissor handles
and apt to crush the tiny plants. Each stalk held a single leaf, worth a bag of gold at least.
I’ll have to fix this spot in memory
, he thought, though when he’d be along this way again, he did not know.
The very last stalk he left intact. It confused him to do so – it was not as if sparing it would encourage the others to grow
back faster, yet somehow it seemed greedy to take them all. Already the amount of gold they represented would be too much
for him and Tarzi to carry.
We’ll have to trade up for gems
, he thought.
Why not take the last leaf too, then? A few extra emeralds and rubies will hardly break our backs
He left it nonetheless. The rest he wrapped carefully in a cloth, which he placed in his satchel among less precious bundles
of black cress, ascenia, and scrapings of purple moss.
‘What are you doing up there?’
Tarzi had appeared at the cave entrance. She was gripping a straining branch from a tree at the threshold,
using it to hang into the cave, leaving only her feet firmly planted outside.
‘Why don’t you come and see?’ he called.
She glanced around nervously. He knew she didn’t like the skitterers, the way their armoured bodies rasped over rocks as they
moved, or their myriad beady eyes.
‘They won’t hurt you,’ he said. ‘They’re too scared of the light.’
He didn’t mention that, when he’d first climbed onto this shelf, a skitterer had been scuffling about, pausing to watch him
arrive. ‘Hello,’ he’d said to it, and it had come at him, long feelers spread wide to expose its moving mouth parts. Perhaps
it had felt cornered – Rostigan did not think the others would do Tarzi any harm, but he also did not think she would enter
the cave in the first place.
‘I’m hungry,’ she called.
‘Don’t you have songs to practise?’
‘Hmph,’ she said. ‘Give me a title and I’ll perceive every word simultaneously, like a scroll laid out from end to end.’
Rostigan sighed. ‘Why don’t you write some new songs then?’
‘Perhaps if you stopped spending your time scrabbling about in caves, I might witness something worth writing about!’
‘Well, you may get lucky – the skitterers might discover their brown little hearts and attack me.’
He closed his satchel and pushed off the shelf. As he landed heavily on the cave floor, a rock cracked under
his booted heel, and alarmed clicking sounded from dark corners. Tarzi yelped, almost losing hold of her branch. She hauled
herself back along it until she was upright, released it to whip away, and disappeared.
Rostigan chuckled and headed to the entrance, avoiding the place where he had cast down the body of the quarrelsome skitterer.
Two others were already crunching on it, working inwards from the legs.
Squinting in the glare, he stepped outside. Low hills overlooked the beach, its white sand a furnace that warped the view
of crashing waves beyond. At the top of the closest rise Tarzi stood facing away with hands on hips, a silhouette in the light,
her tawny curls shining like translucent amber. Her pose suggested that maybe, if she stared it down, the sun might go away.
She moved under the shade of a grey-barked tree where their packs lay, kneeling down to rummage through them. Rostigan arrived
to find her pulling out food, looking hot and bothered – her skin dappled with sweat, most prominently at her temples and
between her breasts, elsewhere making her blouse stick to her.
Such a beauty, my Tarzi, and not modest about it either
She glanced up at him, a flustered look in her big dark eyes. ‘Don’t look at me like that.’
‘Like you enjoy seeing me distressed.’
‘You’re distressed?’ Rostigan gave a surprised laugh.
‘Besides,’ she went back to rummaging, ‘even if they’d attacked you, who wants to hear a song about some fellow fighting a
bunch of beetles in the dark?’
Rostigan shook his head slightly. He wondered if she would ever accept that he was not the type to actually seek adventure
– that his actions at the Ilduin Fields he had considered necessary, not desirable. To Tarzi though, he would always be the
hero Skullrender, a name given to him at that great battle. And ever since then, try as he might for a quiet existence, there
was always someone in need of help. Most recently they had come across a village that had been serving as an ongoing meal
for a Worm of Regret, and Rostigan had been the one to venture into its foul-smelling lair – an unnatural lean-to in nearby
woods, built of trees wilting inwards – and put an end to it. Such creatures had persisted since the time of Regret, but it
seemed to Rostigan there had been more of them lately. Another sign, perhaps, of what was coming, though not enough to pick
‘Why,’ he said, crouching beside her, ‘you choose to follow around an old statue like me, I will never know.’
‘You’re not old. Or, if you are, it’s just a touch – enough to make you look dignified.’
The stained knees of Rostigan’s trousers and cave dirt encrusting his arms did not make him feel dignified. Still, he’d been
told he was handsome enough times over the years to have come to accept it, despite the stony, angular face he saw in the
He drew the sword from his back and rubbed it on the grass, cleaning off skitterer blood.
‘Look at this desultory collection,’ Tarzi said disdainfully, sweeping a hand over the food she had unpacked. There was a
small portion of bread, some dried crab meat, half a vial of sweet sap, berries that looked on the turn, a few sprigs of mint,
and a rabbit she had caught that morning. They had been many days away from settlement, and it was beginning to show in their
‘We’re close to Silverstone,’ said Rostigan bleakly, and her eyes lit up.
He knew she grew bored with their treks through the wilderness. It was her choice to be here, however, and she could leave
whenever she wished. That was the original bargain, though if Rostigan was honest, its parameters had muddied over time. They
had shared a bed almost from the start, wherever that bed might be, and so of course that tangled everything. And while there
were days when he wished he was alone, and wondered why he’d ever agreed to let a minstrel accompany him – even one as enticing
as Tarzi – there were others when he was inexplicably compelled to see her happy, and thus agreed to civilisation.
‘Did you find anything in the cave?’
‘As a matter of fact …’ he said, reaching for his satchel. He retrieved the curltooth carefully – there was no wind, but he
remained wary of a sudden gust – and unrolled the cloth before her. The blue-green clover heads had already
begun to crumple, and he knew he should get them drying in the sun.
Tarzi scrunched her freckled nose.
‘You don’t know what this is?’ he asked.
Her scepticism changed to amazement. ‘No!’
‘But folk say curltooth is no more!’
‘So they do. And yet.’
She frowned. ‘You’re
that’s what it is? You’ve seen it before?’
The deep place yawned, threatening to swallow him. ‘Once or twice,’ he said.
‘But then that’s …’ She scanned the leaves, counting up their worth in her head. ‘That’s a fortune!’
‘They say it only takes a crumb.’
She poked at a limp leaf. ‘We may never have to work again!’ She seemed suddenly horrified by the thought, and Rostigan felt
affection for her then, vulnerable as she was to her own self-created worries.
‘The value of these,’ he gestured at the wilting leaves, ‘is their own. We could sell them, but then what? Someone else enjoys
the luxury great wealth can buy, and we enjoy great wealth without the luxury? Doesn’t that sound rather roundabout to you?’
‘Are you saying …?’
Rostigan smiled. ‘Why don’t you get some water boiling?’
For a moment she looked like she didn’t believe him, but then pleasure flushed her cheeks. She leapt to her feet, gave a little
clap, and shot off down the hill towards the beach, where a stone ring housed the smouldering remains of last night’s fire.
Rostigan followed slowly, and while she went about cleaning the pot, which involved a run over hot sand to the water and back,
he laid out the curltooth in the sun. Normally he would leave herbs alone to dry without worry, but this day he sat down on
a log to watch over them closely. As Tarzi built up the fire and boiled the water, tore up mint and skinned the rabbit, for
once she did not seem to mind his idleness.
‘Now,’ she said, rubbing sludge off her hands into the sand, ‘what shall we make?’
Rostigan had never cooked with curltooth before, though he’d seen it done. One thing he remembered about the cooks who wielded
it – they were always judicious about the number of accompanying ingredients. Curltooth had no taste of its own, its quality
being to enhance other flavours, and if a dish contained too many, the result could prove overpowering.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘perhaps a rabbit-mint stew?’
‘Seems a bland meal for such an occasion.’
‘Songbird, we could have mint soup alone and it would make you quiver.’
She froze for a moment with excitement, then rabbit and mint went into the pot. With exaggerated ceremony Rostigan lifted
a curltooth leaf, tore a tiny shred from it, and dropped it in also.
‘We wait, as with any meal. Come,’ he patted the log beside him, ‘you can rest in my shade.’
After a while Tarzi gave up peering into the pot as if she could actually see the magic taking place, and seated herself.
He put an arm around her, but she was too restless, and soon got up to pace and fuss about in a way that had him worried she
would kick sand onto the drying curltooth.
Once the stew was finally ready, her hands shook as she ladled it into two bowls. She gave one to Rostigan and waited expectantly,
as if it was up to him to take the first taste. Shrugging, he scooped up a spoonful of rabbit and broth.
Perhaps it had been a while, but curltooth worked as well as he remembered. The mint twisted through his mouth in fresh green
ribbons, and the rabbit was so alive on his tongue he felt like he was eating its soul. On seeing his rapturous expression,
Tarzi could wait no longer, and took her first hesitant sip. The face she made Rostigan had seen before, but only in the heat
of certain moments.
‘By the tides,’ she said, and nothing more for a long time. Together they ate slowly and reverently, and when there was no
more they scraped the bowls, then licked them clean and fingers as well. Even the insides of their mouths they licked, eking
wayward morsels from between teeth.
Rostigan realised he hadn’t checked on the curltooth for a while, but a quick look showed it was all still there, some of
it already brown. A jar would be better for it, now that it was in danger of crumbling.
‘If you go and fetch the rest of the food,’ he said, ‘and a jar from my satchel, I will share a little secret with you.’
Quickly she obeyed, running up the hill and back with what he asked for.
‘Now,’ he said, as he took the jar from her and deposited the curltooth safely inside, ‘some of the herb still lingers in
your mouth. Why don’t you try the berries?’
Eagerly Tarzi set about sampling the food they had left. Each new thing brought a moan and eyes rolling heavenwards, and Rostigan
did not mind that she finished their stocks – he might have had a berry or two himself, indeed. Soon the last item remaining
was the vial of sweet sap – which Tarzi unstoppered with a wicked grin and poured down her throat all at once. She sat up
straight as if hit by lightning, her eyes even larger than usual.
‘Everything all right?’ said Rostigan.
‘Wah,’ she said, smacking her lips. ‘That was … by the Spell … I tasted that down my
.’ She set the empty vial down gingerly.
He chuckled. ‘Maybe we should hold onto this curltooth for a while?’
She nodded. ‘Perhaps we could sell just one leaf? Imagine how much fine food we could buy with that much gold!’
‘That we could.’
Her mischievous look came back.
‘What is it?’ he said.
‘I just thought of something else that might benefit from such enhancement,’ she said, and leaned in to kiss him.
As she closed her eyes the sky went black, as if the sun had suddenly winked out. For a moment everything lay in pitch darkness
… and then, just as suddenly, the day blazed forth once more.
‘What’s wrong?’ she said, opening her eyes, annoyed to find his lips unyielding.