In the fifth book in the Princelings series, we find the young outcast from the Lost City of Arbor travelling west as his mother suggested. He is rounded up amongst other exiles, but escapes, and finds himself among people that could be his friends, something he has never had before. But they are under threat, and Humphrey’s adventures twist and turn as he is called to his destiny by an unknown force, one that calls to his special hearing skills. He meets other talented individuals and learns to be a team, to work with others for the common good.
It’s a tale of greed, of fighting, of cruelty and of a darker place than the ones we’ve met so far in the Princelings world. Heroes and heroines emerge from the unlikeliest of places to find laughter and friendship and a place where they belong.
The Talent Seekers is a fantasy adventure story with paranormal influences and some pitched battles. It is set in the months between the Prologue and the Epilogue of the Princelings and the Lost City, but with otherwise little connection to the previous stories in the series. It’s suitable for readers aged 10 and upwards.
The ditch was wet. Humphrey had found a comfortable place to lie during the day, out of sight, but his long hair was woefully bedraggled. The grass was good, though, and he could nibble it without showing himself above the level of the ground. He had outrun his erstwhile captors the other night, and continued west, leaving the cave behind him. There would be other places, he thought. And if he needed it again, he could find his way back. It was as fixed in his memory as any of the books he’d read. Sometimes he dreamt of a place that was warm and dry and surrounded by enough books to keep him busy for years. A library. He’d never seen one, but he hoped he’d find one, one day.
He’d left the quiet of the forest behind. This was a place with more persons around. He listened to them all day and some of the night. The ones nearest to him talked of harvested hay and about growing roots, and whether these should be stored now or whether a few more weeks would be safe. The ones in the mid-distance talked of markets and inns and preparation for dinner, and whether the castle needed more supplies. And the ones in the castle….
“My lord, we have reports that the gangs of thugs are increasing. We are sending a sortie to apprehend them.”
“My lord, this person reported that his wife had seen a vampire in the night.”
“My lord, there are rumours of a pestilence affecting the corn stored in the warehouse.”
He could imagine these people, what they looked like, how they bowed and fawned. He had read stories of kings and their courtiers. He found it rather relaxing to listen to their conversations as he lay in his ditch during the day. It was like his first home, listening to the queen and her ladies in waiting. He wondered if he would ever have another home.
Despite the increasingly keen wind blowing in from the east, he found it easy to doze off in the afternoon, feeling safe from prying eyes. As soon as dusk fell he would be out to eat what he could find. Some of the roots the locals gossiped about had tasty green leaves still.
The dark was fully upon him and owls were hunting around, when some murmuring in the background grew loud enough to make him uneasy. People were moving through the fields and along the roads. He crouched down among the furrows where the roots grew. It was hard to make sense of the dark shapes he could see in the distance. People were running along the edge of the field. Then they were running through the field. Then they were running along the furrow, straight towards him.
He got up and ran along the furrow too, keeping a few lengths ahead, not knowing where he was going. He reached the end of the row and kept going, jumping over a ditch and swishing through long grass on the other side. People joined him and ran with him. He had no idea why they were running, but didn’t have breath to ask what was going on. People on his left leaned towards him and jostled him. He ran towards his right more and jostled the person on his right, who veered off and jostled the next person, and so the whole group of runners headed right towards the corner of the field. They streamed over the edge and into a narrow lane heading uphill between deep banks. Trees started to shut out the night above them.
“Break left, break left,” he heard someone call. “They’ll funnel us into their trap!”
Humphrey saw a slight gap in the left bank. He headed up it, followed by scores of others. He ran on through small trees with low branches. He squished something soft on the ground; from the smell it was some sort of fruit. One part of his brain registered ‘fruit would be good to store for winter’, while the rest of his brain watched where he and his companions were going.
They burst out of the orchard and dropped down onto yet another field that had ridges in it but no crops. Jumping from ridge to ridge they made speedy progress. Squeals of terror echoed behind them, roughly in the direction the lane would have taken them. They ran on, downhill and over another stream. On, on, over rough ground, till they reached another wood, wilder this time. Stray brambles snagged their exhausted legs. As one they slowed to a stagger, too tired to walk. Chests heaved from the effort of their run. They ground to a halt and looked at each other, spent.
Nobody said anything for a while. Some stared at the ground, some at a neighbour, others in the direction the cries had been heard. Some stayed standing, their legs still trembling with fatigue; others collapsed on the ground. As they started to recover they moved into different groups. A few moved through the survivors of the chase, studying faces, looking for friends or colleagues. If they found those they sought, they all sat down together and rested silently.
Humphrey wondered what he should do. Getting no sensible response from his brain, he followed up by wondering who they were. He thought of asking one of them, but decided it would be best not to draw attention to himself. He sat down beside two females and a male and said nothing.
After about an hour, Humphrey noticed a male person moving through the groups, encouraging people to get up and move on. He was afraid he’d be spotted as an outsider and thrown out or punished in some way. Still, he moved on alongside the three he’d been sitting with. They seemed content to have his company, so he walked on at their pace. No one said much, only warnings to watch their step or mind a tree. Humphrey’s experience in moving through forests enabled him to avoid such obstacles with ease.
Despite their tiredness they walked till dawn. The forest gave way to rolling hills, and Humphrey found himself on a type of grass he’d not seen before, short and springy and pleasant on his feet. After one particularly steep climb they crested the rise and dropped onto a narrow path that wound down into a cliff-like bowl. At the bottom they went under a ledge and into a large cave. The entrance was completely hidden from anyone at the top.
Humphrey followed his three companions. This was more than a cave—it was a warren. They passed along corridors that had small alcoves every now and then, where families and small groups sat or stood, and where people looked out at the passersby, studying their faces to see if they recognised them.
They arrived at an empty alcove and went in. Humphrey hesitated, wondering what he should do.
“You joining us?” the redhaired female asked.
“Don’t hover, then. Sit there.”
Copyright© 2013, Jemima Pett. All rights reserved.