The Earthstone


This book, like others, opens with a tableau not unlike a wide-angle establishing shot from a movie, or the overture of an opera. Where George Lucas starts each of the six Star Wars movies with a space battle between capital ships to emphasize that these are, in fact, wars in space, each Westria novel begins with an emphatic statement of that novel’s key elements, where even the color palette introduces the reader to the book’s theme. Here, in The Earthstone, we are introduced to the young Julian, last seen as an infant in Faris’s arms at the end of Mistress of the Jewels or as a boy on the cusp of manhood in “The Naming of a King“, once published as a short story in The Book of Kings and now freely available on the Westria website.

Julian is on his way to deliver some messages to the Regent of Westria, and to learn from the Master of the Junipers, who is also currently at Bongarde, the truth about his parentage. He looks across the Royal Domain at sunset and sees the shape of a lady in the darkening hills, introducing the third motif in this overture–the Lady of the Land, who appears as a mysterious woman seeking to share his fire, food, and bed. By dawn, the land and all its non-human inhabitants know that the King is returning and, more importantly, has given himself to the land. As the message courses up and down the lines of power, it comes to the lands and beings Julian will encounter as he seeks his heritage: the Lord of the Trees, the Mistress of the College of the Wise, the Lady of Earth at Awhai, and, finally, the Gnome-King who rules the stone under the Red Mountain, and Caolin, the proud and bitter Sorceror at its crown.

In the morning, he continues his journey and confronts the Master of the Junipers, who gives him the unexpected and at first unwelcome news that he is the heir to the throne, and that Silverhair, who encountered him at the end of the previous book, is his uncle. After the first shock, Julian vows himself to the service of Westria.

But the land has gone for twenty years without a sovereign, and not everyone wants a king. Frederic, eldest son of the Regent, becomes his enthusiastic supporter, but Lord Eric himself, though sympathetic, says that Julian will have to prove his right to rule. The Master of the Junipers suggests that he do so by finding and mastering the Jewels of Power that were lost by Caolin. It seems logical to begin with the Earthstone.

Frederic, Silverhair and the Master of the Junipers are Julian’s first companions on the quest, but Caolin attacks them at the holding of Registhorpe (in Marin County) and defending them, the Master is struck down. He lives, but the three young men must go on without him to seek counsel from the Lord of the Trees, guided by the Rana of Registhorpe. The Lord of the Trees tells them to seek the Lady of Earth, who dwells in Awhai on the borders of Elaya, and gives them a lesser tree-spirit, the Lady Madrone, as a guide. When they head southward, Rana follows them.

The quest leads them to the College of Bards (in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where Silverhair’s harp, broken in the defense at Registhorpe, is repaired, and down the coast of Westria. Silverhair, worn with wandering and a little too fond of wine, proves difficult to love. In the coastal mountains they come to a holding where raiders have struck and rescue an old woman and a mute boy. It is not until they reach the border town of Santibar that they realize that Caolin has sent Malin Scar, the Shadower, to hunt Silverhair down. When the Shadower reports their encounter, Caolin for the first time realizes who Julian is. The warriors of Awhai drive off the Shadower, but to get the information he needs, Julian must survive the moonflower ritual, whose visions nearly destroy him. In the process he speaks with the Lady of Earth, and learns that the Earthstone came to rest at the roots of the Red Mountain.

Now the companions heads north again, taking the road up the Great Valley to evade the Shadower. Julian falls into the hands of some of the outlaws Caolin is recruiting, and is rescued by the plant spirits awakened by Lady Madrone. When they reach the Red Mountain, Julian, Frederic and Silverhair make their way into the old mining tunnels at its base in search of the Jewel. In the darkness, the gnomes confuse and separate them, but the Earthstone calls to Julian. He finds and claims it, and compels the gnomes to show them the way out. On Samaine Eve they return at last to the royal city of Laurelynn.

Caolin, shocked by the power that Julian has claimed beneath his very feet, reacts immediately. His reivers are already raiding Westria by land and sea. Now he sends his agents to turn her rulers against this unknown claimant to the throne, and Malin Scar to attack the Master of the Junipers. To bolster Julian’s status, the Regent knights him, but instead of taking a lord, Julian sets the Earthstone in his shield and publically pledges himself to the service of Westria. While members of the Council, bought by Caolin, challenge Julian’s claim, Caolin challenges Julian himself to meet him in a duel of magic with the life of the Master of the Junipers as prize.

The meeting takes place on Spear Island in the midst of the Dorada River. Shielded by the Earthstone, Julian is strong, but the Blood Lord’s magic is more powerful still. Once more the Lady Madrone brings the powers of nature to Julian’s aid, but even as he retreats, Caolin’s last blast strikes Julian down.

Shocked and grieving, Silverhair brings Julian’s body to the Sacred Wood, where all the kings of Westria lie. But the power of the Earthstone shielded him from the full force of Caolin’s blow, and he is not dead, but in a very deep trance, in which he encounters the spirits of his parents. Only the Master of the Junipers, who has survived Malin Scar’s attack, realizes what has happened and walks the spirit road to lead him back to life once more. Rana, rising early on Midwinter Day, finds him walking in the woods and welcomes him back to the world of men.