I should start by saying that, yes, I do plan on having this series published someday. I have been working hard on this series for two years, and I fully intend on getting this out there as a real novel.

So, why did I decide to post this series online? There are several reasons. I really wanted to see if there was interest in this story, and if I could build a fan base before I attempt to publish these. The second reason is that I am in desperate need of serious feedback, as no one will give me any. I show it to people and they say, "It's good" and that's it. My third reason is that is gives me motivation to finish the series, as when I'm doing this on my own, no one is pushing me to continue on and I find that I go weeks and even months without writing. It also means that I can stop going back and editing what I've already written, and move forward with the story.

So thank you for checking out my series, and please, keep in mind that this is really the first draft of this story. I have spent the past two years worldbuilding and outlining the entire series, but it is a draft, and will be different from what would be the published form one day.

Now, enjoy the story.


The Wild Swans

Book One

The Swan's Silence

By Ella Southgate


In every great story, before the quest can begin, comes the search to find its heroes.


Prologue

How Did We Get Here?

April 23, 746 A.C.


Sarah tried to remember exactly how she ended up face first in the sand, coughing the ocean out of her lungs, the waves blanketing her legs as they crashed against the beach.

So far, she had nothing.

She looked around, searching for some clue as to what had happened, but her surroundings were unfamiliar and her memories shaky.

Her head pounded as she coughed into the sand, the water flushing from her lungs once more. When the last of the water was cleared out, and the coughing subsided, she shifted into an upright position and blearily observed herself. The white dress she wore clung awkwardly to her frame, as it was absolutely soaked, which made the material a little too sheer for her comfort. The design and fabric was simple, a far cry from the beautiful gowns she had worn back before her home had been invaded. In fact, she looked very little like the Princess she had once been. Her fair white skin was now burnt by the intense sunlight of her new home, and her beautiful blonde locks were now coarse, matted, and oily from her inability the keep it properly. This impromptu "swim" of hers was probably the closest thing to a bath she'd had in weeks. It was only her blue eyes, shaped like her father's, and coloured like her mother's, that remained as a testament of her true heritage.

The simplicity of her appearance was a blessing though; the less she looked like The Lost Princess of Lignum, the safer she was.

"What happened?" Sarah wondered rubbing her head as the pulsating pain concentrated itself in a very specific spot behind her right temple.

It was then she noticed the band around her right wrist: a blue piece of fabric embroidered with gold thread that shaped a star with a seahorse in the middle, and a miniature version of each of the five elements next to each point of the star. It was the traditional band that every citizen in the world of Elementum wore on Victory Day, a holiday celebrating the day the Star, Asteria, defeated the Tyrant, Celestella.

Suddenly things were starting to make a lot more sense.

As part of the Victory Day celebrations, the citizens of Aqua would take to the great ocean that separated the Island Kingdom of Aqua from the Great Continent that hosted the other four Kingdoms of Elementum. The Stars would then set off powerful fireworks that could be seen all the way from Silvus, the capital of Sarah's home, the Kingdom of Lignum. This was astounding in the fact that the Palace of Silvus resided not far from the eastern edge of the Continent, which itself, lay east of Aqua.

Last night, Sarah had gone onto one such boat with a few friends of the kind Stars that had been hosting the fugitive. All had been going well, until the storm started. It couldn't have been a normal storm, not with the way the ocean had raged. Sarah had felt the danger last night, but how did she end up on the beach?

"Wait a minute," something clicked in Sarah's head as she focused on the concentrated throbbing, and remembering the Star who had hosted the event. "Did Taini hit me?"

As her head pounded in response and blurry images from last night began to surface in her mind, the answer seemed to be yes. The raging storm, the pounding ache, Taini's panicked look, and the Star's quick apology before everything went dark. Yep, Taini had hit her and thrown her overboard.

"I guess that's what I get for trusting something Zeke swears is safe," Sarah looked around. She'd have to find out some way to get back home now.

"Home," Sarah bitterly thought of the simple house in Mare she had being staying in, and of the beautiful palace of Silvus where she had grown up. "What I would give to go home."

Sarah sighed and stood, before looking about at her surroundings. She was on a beach, but a very small one. Only a few yards of sand stretched out from the lapping waves before the yellow granules were cut off by a boundary of waved beaten rocks, clearly caused by high tide. The shiny black rocks were set against a ledge of earth, and their formation was oddly straight.

"They must have been placed here to prevent the earth from getting corroded," Sarah walked over to the rocks, running a hand across their wave polished surfaces.

She glanced up at the ledge; near the edge of the small cliff sat a thick grove of trees that obscured what lay beyond the beach, but she could hear the faint sounds of civilization. Sarah smiled at the trees; they were large oaks, and very reminiscent of the ones that lined the courtyard of her home. The familiarity gave Sarah a slight piece of comfort, and she found herself compelled to find some way onto the ledge and to the trees.

It was then she noticed it, a small dirt path to the left of her, hidden away by the rocks. She smiled and quickly scaled the ledge, racing over to the trees. The Princess came to a stop in front of the biggest tree, and carefully ran a hand over the rough bark, a memory of her father surfacing in her mind.

"You should be proud of being Lignumi, Sarah," her father told her as they stood in front of the oldest tree of Lignum, observing its might and power. She couldn't have been more than six years old at the time. "All the other Kingdoms have flimsy Elements, blowing out with the simplest wind or rusting by water, but trees? Trees are strong. You can cut them down, but their roots will remain firmly in the earth. And no matter what obstacle stands in their path, they will always find a way to grow. No matter what happens, Sarah, no matter how hard the path, a Lignumi will always find a way."

A tear slipped from Sarah's eye: no matter how hard the path was ahead of her was, she would find a way.

"I promise, Father," Sarah vowed, resting her cheek against the tree, desperately trying to pretend that she had him again.

Before she could finish her moment with the pretend tree father, a bark rung out. Sarah's head snapped up, finally looking around. The ledge held a small forested path, and she could see that a winding dirt trail curved through the trees. Far off, past a corner of the trail, was a small seaside city. Sarah smiled; all she had to do was get to the city and get directions back to Mare, where she was sure there were quite a few worried people looking for her.

It was then she remembered that she had no money for passage and was wearing a sheer dress.

"Vae!" Sarah mentally cursed. Although, to be honest, this was probably one of the least embarrassing things that had happened to her lately.

The bark rang out again, and suddenly a small black figure raced forward on the path. As it came closer, Sarah could see that it was a huge dog, with thick coal black fur and a rope tied around its neck. Its teeth were bared dangerously, and it was snarling as its eyes locked on her.

Now Sarah liked dogs well enough, but this was less dog and more wolf hunting prey, and it had decided its prey would be her. So Sarah did the only thing she could think of: she scrambled up the tree as fast as she could, and settled on the highest branch that looked like it could support her weight.

Unfortunately the branch wasn't quite high enough, and suddenly, two sharp rows of teeth clamped down on one of her pale ankles. Sarah found herself just barely stopping a scream from ripping out of her throat as the pain surged through her body. She acted on instinct; using her free leg, she kicked the dog in the face, hard enough that he let her go for a second. Quickly, as the dog lunged at her again, she lifted her ankle out of its reach, and tucked her legs into her chest. Sarah sat, panting in a semi-fetal position, cradling her injured ankle, stuck quite literally like a cat in a tree as the devil dog jumped up at her over and over.

"I've officially hit an all-time low," Sarah frowned, looking between the dog and her bleeding ankle. She could barely hold back tears as she thought about how close she had come to screaming. "I can't believe I almost did that. I have to learn to control myself. Winds, I hope the others are okay."

Suddenly, she heard some faint yelling from down the path, and a small group of people came racing toward the dog.

"I'm saved," Sarah couldn't help but smile at the group.

There were a couple boys who went straight to the dog, unnoticing of the Princess as they fought to get control of the creature, though it was a battle they were clearly losing. Two girls followed them, but the older of the two threw out an arm and held back the younger, protecting her from the monster as they watched the boys. A few feet behind the group, they were followed casually by a strong, older man holding a rope. He paused on the path and watched the young boys with an amused expression as they tried to pull back the dog.

After a few minutes of struggling, one of the boys finally glanced up at the tree.

"Oh, great," the boy frowned, his eyes locking on Sarah. He exhaled in irritation before calling up to her, "Sorry about him! New dog and all!"

"We'll get him under control in a moment!" the other boy didn't look at Sarah. He seemed much more focused on the dog as he snapped at the first boy, "Please explain to me again why you thought getting a dog was a good idea?"

"You're right, who needs companionship with your sparkling personality?" Sarcasm lined the first boy's reply.

Sarah frowned as she carefully began to shift from the fetal position, watching the little group with interest. She couldn't get much from the two girls as the younger hid behind the older, but the older did not seem very amused as she watched the boys struggle with the dog. As for the older man, he had a smile on his face as he watched the encounter, almost as if the situation was one big joke.

But it was the boys that were the most interesting of all. The tension between them seemed almost like physical entity to Sarah. Their tones in speaking to each other were angry and hostile, and the way they looked at each other was very much like the way her father had looked at Rayhan before throwing him out of the Kingdom.

Sarah held back a sad sigh, "I almost wonder if I should have let him kill Rayhan."

"Can we get some help?" the dog owner snapped Sarah out of her thoughts as he looked back at the group watching the boys.

"Here, take this," the older man finally stepped in to take control of the situation. He tossed the bundle of rope he was holding to the second boy before looking back at the dog owner, "You help me hold him while he ties that to the dog's collar."

"Got it," the dog owner nodded.

Sarah looked from the boys to the dog; he had stopped lunging at her and was now crouched back, his fur standing on end, a faint growl coming from his throat. He was ready the pounce.

The man held very still, staring down the dog in a challenge for dominance.

Then he moved.

A loud cry ripped from the man's throat as the dog's teeth sunk into his arm.

"Grab him!" the man cried, trying to wrestle the dog away.

It was great struggle, but eventually the man and the dog owner were able to wretch the dog off of the man's arm and hold him still long enough for the second boy to tie the rope to the monster's collar.

"I'll take care of him," the man announced. If the wound had affected the man, it didn't look it as he took the leash from the second boy. The only hint of the attack was the blood lightly staining his sleeve. "You all take care of the girl. I'll meet you back at the ship. And mind her ankle."

"Yes, Sir," the second boy nodded.

Sarah blinked, "He noticed my ankle?"

The dog owner frowned at the man, "Sorry about the dog, Kennard."

The man smiled at the boy, "Don't worry, it's not the worst I've ever had."

"We'll see you at the ship," the older girl stepped forward, still holding the younger away from the dog.

Kennard nodded, and led the snapping creature up the path, back towards the city. All members of the group were dead silent, trying not to provoke the creature until Kennard and the dog were gone.

"I'm sorry about the dog," the second boy said once the dog was gone, which Sarah took as her cue to start scaling down the tree. He vaguely glanced up at Sarah, and when he noticed her climbing, he offered his hand, "Here, let me help."

Sarah wanted to tell him that, despite her ankle, she really was fine, but she quickly remembered the promise she had made and simply smiled at the boy, taking his hand.

Her blue eyes locked upon his brown ones.

It was in that moment they first really looked at each other, and for a second, something pleasant flitted across his face.

He was about her age, and tan like the Ignisians, but his complexion was ever so slightly lighter than most citizens of the Fire Kingdom, suggesting some distant Lignumi ancestors in his lineage. He had dark brown hair that was cut a little longer than what might be considered appropriate and it stuck out slightly, as if someone had violently ruffled his hair. His inviting brown eyes sparkled with humour and innocence as they stayed locked on hers, observing her and clearly pleased about something. Overall, he seemed very boyish, and while he wasn't the most handsome man Sarah had ever met, she had to admit that he certainly was attractive. Although she was wary of him, she certainly liked his wide, innocent smile which reflected the kindness, honesty, and naïveté that seemed to radiate off of him.

When Sarah's injured foot hit the ground, she had momentarily forgotten about the wound. Pain shot up her leg, and she almost cried out as she stumbled forward, but before she fall to the ground, instead she fell onto the boy. For a second, his body was sturdy, as if he could catch her successfully, like a Knight in Shining Armor catching a swooning Maiden, but the reality of physics kicked in, and he too lurched backwards. Thankfully, both Sarah and the boy were able to catch themselves, though Sarah was still unsteady as she focused on putting all of her weight onto her good ankle.

"Here, lean on me," the boy offered, shifting his position into one that could hold her better.

Sarah looked at him hard for a minute; coming from most men she would be suspicious of the encouragement of close contact, but the look on the boy's face, and tone of his voice was so innocent that she wondered if he even realised the suggestive nature of the action.

Sarah smiled, and looked at the boy, "Well, he seems alright."

"Carefully now," the boy helped her shift her weight onto him.

It seemed that Sarah's approval of the boy was returned as he couldn't stop smiling and observing her as he gently helped her.

Suddenly, from behind the two, the older girl cleared her throat, and threw a pointed look to Sarah's clasped hand. She hadn't even noticed that she was still holding his hand.

"Oh," the boy blushed, releasing Sarah's hand. "Sorry. Are you okay? You know, other than the ankle."

Sarah nodded, a smile playing across her face.

"That's good to hear," the boy continued. "I'm, uh, I'm- My name is-"

"Stammers here's name is Christian," the dog owner interrupted, causing the boy to redden and glare at him. The dog owner ignored Christian as he casually pointed to the girls behind him, "That's Larissa, Adara, and I'm Patrick."

Sarah's eyes went wide as the recognition struck her brain.

"It can't be," she stared in horror at the group assembled before her.

Of course, Christian was paler than the average Ignisian; the average Ignisian didn't have generations of Lignumi Royalty mixing into their line. But the Crown Prince of Ignis, Christian Phoenixflame, of course would.

And Larissa. Oh, Larissa was the older girl: tall, pale, beautiful beyond imagination with ice blue eyes, white blonde hair, and unknown power coursing through her veins. There was no mistaking the famous Star daughter.

The younger girl was probably the one who scared Sarah the most, mostly in the unanswered question of what was she doing here? Adara stood shyly at the back of the group, barely noticeable but a great threat. A petite figure with the same desert complexion Rayhan had sported, Sarah thought with a shudder. The girl was quiet, nervously pulling her long black hair over the right side of her face, obscuring it from view.

"Fireface," Sarah recalled.

And the dog owner, though not as dangerous as Adara, Patrick was a great threat to Sarah's undoing as he stood there, studying her, trying to place her face. Oh, she knew that strong, cocky, copper skinned boy whose arms were crossed at her. She knew him all too well.

She knew them all.

"But do they know me?" Sarah feared, eyes darting nervously from figure to figure.

An awkward silence hung over the group as they waited for the girl to speak. Patrick raised a brow, and looked towards Larissa, who scowled and shrugged back.

Finally, Patrick spoke, "And your name is?"

Sarah sighed, a slight bit of relief escaping.

"He doesn't know."

The group looked at each other awkwardly. The tall girl, Larissa, narrowed her eyes, something clicking in her head.

"You can talk, can't you?" Larissa dared to ask.

Sarah bit her lip, and gravely shook her head.

"Oh," Larissa's eyes widened as each member of the group looked at each other in shock. "I'm sorry, we didn't know."

Sarah held up her hands innocently, doing her best to gesture that it was okay, but she couldn't help but notice an odd look on Patrick's face.

"How'd it happen?" Patrick blurted out.

"Patrick!" Larissa snapped.

"What?" he threw up his hands. "I'm curious."

"That doesn't matter," Christian looked at Patrick with annoyance. "You can't just ask someone why they can't talk."

"What if she was injured?" Patrick pointed out, the obvious exclusion of her ankle going unsaid. "We need to know if we need to get help."

"Were you injured?" Christian asked Sarah.

Sarah looked down at her dress, remembering how she got there, and of the pain resonating through her head. It was then she also remembered the sheerness of her dress, and glancing at Christian, whom she was still leaning upon, she awkwardly crossed her arms around her torso, trying her best not to bring attention to her outfit. Sarah tilted her hand back in forth in a motion meaning "somewhat".

She accidentally caught Larissa's eye, and the Star glanced down at the Princess' dress.

"Boys, Adara, turn around," Larissa ordered, realizing Sarah's modesty issue.

The Star's countenance towards Sarah was starting to relax, as a kind smile flitted across her face. Catching on, the boys and Adara looked away from the mute as Larissa stepped toward Sarah. Suddenly, as if she didn't want to be seen by Sarah, Adara darted from her now uncovered spot, to hide behind Patrick.

"Christian, let her lean on me," Larissa instructed.

The Prince nodded, and carefully shifted Sarah into the Star's arms, before turning his back completely to avoid the immodest sight of Sarah.

Larissa gently took a hold of the Princess, "Don't worry, we'll get you the help you need."

Sarah smiled, she found something very comforting in the Star.

Chivalrously, Christian unbuttoned his jacket and offered it to Larissa who used it to make sure Sarah was adequately covered up.

"So," Larissa helped Sarah into the sleeves of the jacket. "How did you end up getting chased up a tree by our dog?"

Sarah smiled.

"If only you knew."


So, what do you think? Any and all feedback will be welcome.