We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Emily Tesh’s Drowned Country, the stunning sequel to Silver in the Wood. Available August 18th from Tordotcom Publishing, this second volume of the Greenhollow duology once again invites readers to lose themselves in the story of Henry and Tobias, and the magic of a myth they’ve always known…
Even the Wild Man of Greenhollow can’t ignore a summons from his mother, when that mother is the indomitable Adela Silver, practical folklorist. Henry Silver does not relish what he’ll find in the grimy seaside town of Rothport, where once the ancient wood extended before it was drowned beneath the sea—a missing girl, a monster on the loose, or, worst of all, Tobias Finch, who loves him.
The Demon of Rothling Abbey
Thorngroves shrouded Greenhollow Hall. Blackthorn and hawthorn, holly and briar, carpets of stinging nettles in case anyone missed the point. Adders moved in that dark tangle. Crawling, stinging things skittered along branches. Silver had a good line in alarming spiders going.
Thin branches pressed up against the library windows, tapping and tapping as if asking permission to come in. No sunbeam had managed to penetrate in months.
On a Tuesday afternoon in April, a shudder of recognition went through the whole mess. Silver was lying on the dusty floor of the mediaeval great hall, staring at the vaulted ceiling, contemplating making it sprout. Every.thing sprouted if he wanted it to. There was a healthy crab apple demolishing its way through the ceiling and floor of what had once been a whitewashed ground-floor bedroom in the east wing. Crooked branches laden with white blossom and sour fruit together thrust from bro.ken windowpanes. The tree had been in both blossom and fruit for months and it was not happy. Silver was not happy either. Sometimes he went and sat in there and felt sorry for himself.
Other places Silver felt sorry for himself: his study, which as all the servants had left months ago was a mess; his library, which was hardly better; his bedroom, where mistletoe hung from the bedposts like midwinter baubles; and of course the floor of the great hall, where the cold of the ancient stones seeped into his back and the moss was spreading lusciously along the cracks be.tween them. He sat up when he felt the shuddering demand go through the Wood. His outline remained on the stones where he had lain sketched in yellow-white lichen. There were several similar man-shapes scattered around the empty room.
“Behold my ghosts,” said Silver out loud. He was in the habit of talking to himself now. He had tried maintaining a dignified silence for a while, and discovered that dignity counted for very little without an audience. These days he chattered, muttered, sang, read aloud when he bothered to read. He read much less than he used to.
The tangle of Greenhollow shuddered again. Silver imagined himself a spider in the web, feeling the threads tremble. “What,” he said crossly, “what is it?”
Something moved in the corner of his vision. He turned his head and glared at the shadows. The thorn-dryad Bramble gathered herself out of the nothingness and stepped into the room.
She hadn’t been able to do that until the roof started crumbling. The fact that she could do it now was the one thing that might make Silver consider attempting to re.pair the roof.
“Get out,” he said.
She fixed her sungold gaze on him. Silver refused to feel embarrassed about the fact that he was wearing the ragged remains of what had been one of his better shirts, and no socks or shoes. He had once prided himself on being well turned out. He wriggled his toes against the flagstones. A man shouldn’t have to wear shoes in his own house if he didn’t want to.
“But this is not a house,” said the dryad, so he’d said that aloud.
Instead the dryad paced closer. She walked in long springing steps that cracked the stones beneath her feet. Little gasping patches of holly sprang up where her toes pressed down into the dust of the ancient flags, two or three leaves and a spray of berries each time. It looked as though the bodies lined in lichen had started bleeding. Silver did not flinch away from her. She was a powerful and dangerous and strange creature, one of the mysteries of the Hallow Wood, unique even among her tree-sisters, but she did not frighten him. Nothing very much frightened him. Was he not the Lord of the Wood, nearer demigod than mortal man, master of time and seasons, beasts and birds, earth and sky?
“Your mother is here,” said Bramble.
After a long silence he managed, “Make her go away.”
Bramble folded her arms. The human gesture did not suit her stiff shape, yet it struck Silver with a startling, painful familiarity. He knew just where she had learned that pose, and that frown, and that air of patient, half-amused disapproval. She showed no sign whatsoever of being in a rush to remove Adela Silver from the premises.
Silver scowled at her. He reached out to the wood himself, but the threads of its power slipped away from him. Rather than additional curtains of thorns springing up around the boundaries of Greenhollow Hall, the ones that were already there started to recede. The dryad was extraordinarily strong, and her relationship with the wood was peculiar; even a man with more than a couple of years’ half-hearted experience making use of the power of the Hallow Wood might have struggled to match her. Silver gave up quickly. As the wall of thorn bushes gave way before the interloper, he felt a light tread in the soil, the swish of a severe skirt in the dew.
This was embarrassing. Silver was the lord of his own wood. He was the owner of his own house. And he was a grown man of twenty-five years. There was no reason his own mother should strike him with as much terror as if he were a naughty schoolboy caught scrumping.
“Oh, very well,” he said, trying to pretend it had been his own idea all along. “Good of you to let me know, Bramble. Run along now.”
The dryad stared at him a moment longer. She tipped her head very slightly to one side.
A wave of rot-scent rolled across the great hall as toadstools erupted through the flagstones and shelves of fungus spread themselves across the walls. The lichen-men vanished under the onslaught. Overhead the vaults of the ceiling erupted into greenery, and shafts of light pierced through as the roof finally, decisively, collapsed.
Silver put his hands over his head. It took a while for the rumbling echoes of falling masonry to die away.
Bramble smirked at him, showing pointed brown teeth, and disappeared.
“I paid a substantial sum of money for this place, I’ll have you know!” he called out. He very much doubted the dryad even knew what money was, and it wasn’t as if he could sell Greenhollow anyway. But still. He looked around in some despair. He was twenty-five years old, he still had some good clothes somewhere, probably, and he was the native demigod of an ancient forest kingdom; but just then he felt altogether defeated by rubble, by toadstools, and by the fact that Mrs Silver was certain to do no more than sniff faintly at the whole.
Moisture dripped from the walls and highlighted the subtle brown striations of the shelf fungus.
Silver contemplated reaching out to the Hallow Wood and attempting to turn his shattered home into a slightly more aesthetically pleasing ruin, or at any rate something he could pretend he had done on purpose, but he had never been able to lie to his mother anyway. Let her sniff. At least this way she could not invite her.self to stay.
Silver met his mother on the steps of the Hall. He had run to his bedroom and thrown on a less horrific shirt, a countryman’s tweed jacket which did not fit him because it was not his, and some socks and shoes.
“Mother!” he said in his most charming tone of voice as she approached. “What a delightful surprise! I . . .” He had to stop and swallow hard as he got a good look at her. “I hope the journey was not too uncomfortable . . . ?” he managed.
Mrs Silver paused. She looked him up and down. “Henry,” she said.
No one used Silver’s given name. He tried to stand up straighter in the shapeless tweed jacket, and to give her the same treatment in return. She was wearing her second-best dark grey dress, which she often wore for travelling. She had retrimmed the wrists with a new lavender ribbon. Her black-caped lady’s coat was adorned at her shoulder with a heavy silver brooch. Her hat was dove-grey with lavender trim. The effect was sombre in the extreme. Silver had never dared to ask her if she was really still mourning his father or if she just found the sober attire of the widow convenient for her purposes. Hunting monsters could be a messy business. Bloodstains hardly showed on black.
Her left hand rested on a cane. Silver had watched her walk up the well-paved drive with it, the strong stride he remembered replaced with a firm step, a halt, a decisive tap, and a second, more careful step. The cane itself was dark, elegant wood—not native, Silver noticed automatically, as he often did now—and tipped with silver. Silver wrenched his gaze away from it and back to Mrs Silver’s eyes.
His mother’s pale gaze had unnerved him all his life and this occasion was no exception. Almost at once he had to refocus on her forehead (newly careworn), her nose (unchanged; a familiar hatchet), her mouth (a straight unreadable line).
“Are you quite finished?” Mrs Silver said.
“Mother,” Silver said faintly.
“Perhaps,” she said, “you would like to offer a crippled old lady somewhere to sit.”
Silver’s mouth opened.
“And some breakfast,” Mrs Silver added. “I have been travelling through the night.”
Silver took a deep breath. “Of course. And—”
“I did not bring any travelling companions, before you ask. Mr Finch remains in Rothport.”
“In Rothport?” said Silver. It was a seaside town a hundred and twenty miles to the northeast. His mind conjured, almost without his wishing it, a picture of Tobias Finch at the seaside; Tobias Finch emerging demurely from a bathing-machine, perhaps in striped flannel, or perhaps not—dear God. He wrenched his thoughts away from this entirely unprofitable train of thought. Tobias Finch was nothing to him.
“Henry,” said Mrs Silver, thankfully distracting in her disapproval, “I am extremely tired. You will be good enough to see to my requests at once. Somewhere to sit down, and something to eat.” She looked up at the battered frontage of Greenhollow, almost entirely hidden by a solid wall of creeping ivy. Her glance raked it up and down exactly the same way she had looked at Silver himself. Then she sniffed. “I assume that tea is beyond you.”
Silver, defiantly, served his mother with small beer from the cellar and a plateful of sour apples, which he set very precisely down in the middle of the library table between them. Mrs Silver looked at the plate, looked at the shabby state of Silver’s library, and drank a fastidious sip of the beer. She had not said a word as she picked her way across the fungus-crowded ruin of the great hall. “Well,” was all she said now.
The silence lengthened. Silver knew this tactic intimately but crumpled anyway. “Well, what?” he said.
“Your father also liked to sulk,” said Mrs Silver.
“I am not sulking,” said Silver.
“I cannot think what else to call it,” Mrs Silver said, “when a healthy young person insists on building himself a thorn-girt fortress and sitting in it consuming nothing but sour fruit and small beer for months on end. I blame myself. I should not have permitted you to read so many fairy tales as a boy.”
“If you are picturing yourself as a sort of Sleeping Beauty, Henry, I regret to inform you that you have failed,” Mrs Silver said. “You do not appear to be asleep, and you most certainly are not beautiful. Perhaps you would like me to cut your hair.”
“No!” Silver said. He summoned up a glare. “I do not expect you to understand, madam, the effects of the Hal.low Wood on a gentleman’s constitution—”
“Mr Finch’s constitution by that argument should have been considerably more affected than yours over the years,” Mrs Silver said, “and yet I recall that he man.aged to keep himself—and his dwelling—presentable.” She took another sip of the beer and added, without mercy, “And clean.”
“I have had various causes to be ashamed of you in the past, my son,” she went on calmly, “but your appearance has never been one of them before.”
“You can’t cut my hair. I’m not a child.”
“Oh, are you not?” Mrs Silver picked up a crab apple, took a bite, made a face at the taste, and took another. She chewed and swallowed. “My mistake.”
“Why are you here?” Silver said. “What do you want?”
“Your assistance,” she said.
“With a case.” As if that hadn’t been obvious. “A rather curious case, and one that is causing us a good deal of difficulty. You shall have to accompany me back to Roth-port.”
“I can’t go to Rothport,” said Silver at once. “I can’t leave the wood.”
“Don’t lie to me, Henry,” said Mrs Silver. “I know perfectly well that you can go wherever you please, provided your wood has been there at some point in the last ten thousand years.”
Mrs Silver clicked her tongue.
Silver subsided. He probably could go to Rothport. They both knew it, just as they both knew perfectly well the real reason Silver was hesitating. “I can’t imagine what use I could be to you,” he said, a last attempt. He heard the tone of his own voice—reluctant, not sulky, thank you—and was irritated; he was playing into her hands. He made himself sit up straight and meet her familiar eyes. He even pasted on an easy smile. “Between your expertise and T—and Mr Finch—surely there is nothing missing from the practical folklorist’s arsenal.”
“You possess certain qualities that both of us lack,” said Mrs Silver calmly. “This creature is cunning, ancient, and strong. I have no doubt that Mr Finch and I could deal with the problem ourselves, in time, but I fear we do not have time.” She took another sip of the beer. She had said all this as neutrally as if she were commenting on the weather. She remained just as neutral as she added, “A young woman’s life is at stake.”
“Good God,” said Silver, “how heartless you sound.”
“Would histrionics on my part incline you to be less selfish?” Mrs Silver said. “If so, I am willing to oblige. The young lady’s name is Maud Lindhurst. She is twenty-one years old. She disappeared a week ago, and Tobias and I have been there five days. He believes we are dealing with a vampire. A very old, very clever vampire. Even he has seen only a few of the type. They tend to avoid the domains of”—her voice went, if anything, even drier—“their natural rivals.”
Neither of them said anything else for a moment. Silver glanced around as if the woodland’s former master might step any moment from the shadows, grey-cloaked and glimmering and utterly cruel. Fabian Rafela had not, of course, been a vampire. He had been something much worse.
The table between them put out a few comforting green tendrils, wrapping them around Silver’s fingers. Silver rubbed his index finger and thumb together across them. The library might be a wreck now but he had seen to the furnishings when he first purchased Greenhollow; the table was imported dark mahogany, rather beautiful. He could feel, distantly, the heat it wanted, the light. “You won’t be happy rooted here,” he murmured.
When he looked up, his mother’s pale eyes were fixed on his face and her expression was strange.
Without letting himself think too much about it—Tobias, in Rothport, on the trail of something old and cunning and cruel and strong, strong enough that Silver’s mother had actually asked for help—Silver sat back in his chair and spread his hands.
“Well, madam,” he said, “you know how I hate to disappoint you.”
Excerpted from Drowned Country, copyright © 2020 by Emily Tesh.