Arken Jeridar

In appearance, Arken is a kind guardian to Serafina who has protected her from the perils of the Darzian jungle and, more importantly, taught her how to overcome them herself.

But Arken staunchly refuses to let Serafina leave the boundaries of the jungle, and will tell her nothing of his former life, nor of Serafina’s own origins.

Learn the full truth of Arken’s past in the free novella, “Grand Traitor.”

Arken Sketch


Story excerpt
from “Grand Traitor”

She couldn’t do it. She just couldn’t.

Nadia stood in the hallway, trembling so fiercely she feared for the health of her baby. Elborn mothers rarely miscarried or suffered complications during childbirth. It was one of the many reasons people suspected they carried the blood of Demetral. But Nadia still worried that the fears and burdens she suffered might have some negative impact on her little Serafina. She could not remember the last time she felt so physically unstable. Her hands sweated uncontrollably. Her body felt weak from lack of food. And yet her one bite of breakfast continued to churn in her stomach.

Two rows of Darzian soldiers shared the hallway with the queen, prepared to give their lives to protect her. She wore a crown on her head, ensuring her that everyone on this vast and powerful continent must obey her command. And yet she felt as vulnerable as a small child alone in the wild. Any moment, Arken Jeridar would come strolling down this hallway. She had chosen this part of the castle for that very purpose, so she might intercept him. But the thought of seeing him again—of staring into those fierce golden eyes, full of anger and maybe even hatred—terrified her beyond belief.

“I, uh… I’m not feeling well,” she said aloud, even though the soldiers were trained not to speak to her. Some of them exchanged puzzled glances, as if wondering whether to respond. “I’m going back to my room!” she declared. Then she started to turn around.

But it was already too late. For at that very moment, Arken appeared at the end of the hallway.

He froze at the same time that she did. He stared at her across the stones of the hall, through the bright beams of sunlight from the windows, and she wondered how she looked to him. There she stood, fat and pregnant, her ridiculously large dress spreading out from her swollen midriff, a look of shock on her face. Crowned, bejeweled, and surrounded by soldiers, she still managed to feel pathetic and sickly.

Meanwhile, Arken looked as radiant as ever. He had traded his silk robes for leather riding boots, simple trousers, and a loose-fitting shirt that showed the softly-sculpted lines of his chest. He had pulled his yellow hair behind him, tied with a silk ribbon, though a few soft strands still fell to accentuate the squareness of his jaws and the sharp length of his nose.

He recovered before she did. He resumed walking, and his steps did not waver as he swept his long legs down the hallway. He stopped just a few feet away from her and feigned a graceful bow. Somehow, this theatrical submission felt equal to the most flagrant insult he might have thrown upon her.

At long last, she closed her gaping mouth and tried to recover her breath. But despite how many times she had rehearsed this moment while waiting for him to appear, she could not find the words to say.

He looked up at her, revealing a tiny smirk on his mouth, and found his voice before she did. “Most beautiful and gracious queen. Forgive me for interrupting you on my way through this hallway.”

He might as well have slapped her across the face. And perhaps that was for the best, for at last, she felt her senses returning to her. “Arken,” she said. “I came here to speak with you.”

He straightened from his ridiculous bow, but continued to wear that smile on his face—a smile that, despite its charm, she knew to be fake. Whatever warmth it provided, the coldness in his eyes overwhelmed it tenfold. “Oh really? Why would the great Queen Nadia ever trouble herself with the likes of a man like me?”

He poised the question as a mockery. But she sensed a sincere curiosity behind his words, as well. “Arken, I…” She glanced around at the soldiers. “Leave us.”

The soldiers hesitated. They could not disobey. But they could not abandon her, either. They did not know what to do.

“Wait for me… over there,” she snapped, pointing to the end of the hallway.

With a great shuffle of armor and weaponry, the soldiers obeyed her. Arken watched them go with an amused expression.

“Arken, when you left here so suddenly, on that day… you never gave me a chance to explain myself.”

“What must you explain? You chose to marry another man. Quite… ‘suddenly.'” The fake smirk, the feigned amusement, vanished completely. His lips curled with a snarl. “Whatever you would say to me, I don’t wish to hear it.”

“But you must. I…” Her palms were sweating again. She rubbed them against the fabric of her dress, to no avail. “I did what I thought what was best for the kingdom. I wanted to marry you. But to do that would have been selfish, especially when I realized the repercussions. If I had abandoned the throne without warning, the castle would have fallen into chaos. Relationships between the Houses were so heated, I feared a civil war.”

“I see. Marrying me would have been selfish?” He snorted, a sound that reverberated from one end of the hall to the other. “Gods forbid you do something selfish! I don’t suppose choosing the crown over love is selfish at all? Nor the assumption that you must sit on the throne or the kingdom will fall to ruin? Naturally, you did what you had to—for the kingdom.”

“You know that it’s true, Arken! Our actions could have had dire consequences.”

“But that’s not the full truth, now is it?” His eyes narrowed on her, and she felt as if they pierced her to the core. “If you really worried so much about the consequences, you would have spoken to the Royal Duma about marrying me long before your scheduled wedding with Lord Gerald.” He stepped closer to her, his gaze crushing her as surely as a boot upon her throat. “If we had proceeded more carefully, we might have gained everyone’s approval. So if you cared so much about that, why didn’t you try? Why did you not announce our intentions sooner?”

Nadia opened her mouth, but no words came out. She realized that for better or worse, Arken sensed the truth. He knew that she had loved him. But despite her love for him, she had never believed he could rule as Grand Prince without causing trouble. She worried that he would always want more power—that his inheritance as a Jeridar would get the best of him. And that even if married to the monarch, his power would fail to satisfy the greed in his bloodstream.

“You misjudged me,” he hissed, his breath blowing the red curls from her face. “You thought I cared only about the crown. You were wrong. But not nearly so wrong as I was about you.”

He pulled back, just a little, but she still felt as if he had smashed her to powder against the floor of the hallway. She felt tiny and small, unable to argue, helpless against his accusations.

“May I pass now, my queen?” His voice dripped with derision. “Or must you explain yourself further?”

“I…” She took another deep, shuddering breath. She stared into the floor, finding that her courage increased the longer she avoided his gaze. “I think that you should not go on this ride with Vivian,” she said at last. “I think that if you obtain the key—more specifically, if your family obtains the key—then the consequences will be dire.”

“That’s not really my concern, is it?” She glimpsed a shrug of his broad shoulders. “Such concerns are for the people with crowns. So why should I worry?”

“Arken. I am begging you…”

“Beg all you’d like, Nadia.” This time, a true hint of joy rang upon his voice, and it chilled her to the bone. “But the more you beg, the more you will assure me of my purpose. For I wish you to understand what it feels like to want only one thing in this world—to want it with every fiber of your being—only to have it denied you.”

And then, without waiting for permission, he swept past her.

For a moment, the soldiers grabbed their weapons. Even from afar, they sensed the queen’s distress. But she shook her head, and they let Arken pass.

She had found the strength to deny him, once. But perhaps that strength had broken, just as surely as his devotion.

***

Read more in the free novella, “Grand Traitor.”

 

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Serafina Elborn

Serafina has grown up in a harsh jungle full of ferocious predators and crafty prey. She knows little of the world outside the jungle, and her only human contact has been with Arken, whom she looks to as a father.

But by the age of seventeen, Serafina’s desire to explore the world outside the jungle grows daily. And eventually, her curiosity may get the better of her…

Serafina Sketch

Story excerpt
(bonus content)

Serafina watched her prey through a tangle of leaves and forced her body to petrify. Her toes pushed against the thin leather fabric of her boots and dug into the soil, like a tree planting roots. Her breath softened until it matched the flow of the breeze weaving a melody around hundreds of tree branches. The muscles of her limbs tightened like ropes pulling taut. Her fingers clenched around her spear, but she refused to let the wooden shaft tremble until the moment came to throw it. Her green eyes glittered as they focused on her target, and the rest of the world melted into darkness.

A furry capybara munched on the leaves of a grenzo bush beneath a single beam of sunlight. Grenzo plants provided a rich source of nutrition in the Darzian jungle, but larger herbivores usually dominated the areas in which it grew. Grenzo bushes needed a great deal of sunlight to survive, and under the the thick jungle canopy such illumination was scarce. To find a grenzo bush unprotected like this one must have been a dream come true to the little capybara. Thus as it ate to its heart content, forgetting its surroundings, the scenario provided Serafina a rare opportunity, as well.

Serafina had been hunting all day without success—until now. She had wandered further from home than she usually dared, so far that she did not know the layout of the jungle beyond this point.

 

Normally she would continue to scout the area before initiating a hunt, ensuring that she would not be surprised by a larger predator or trip unknowingly into a grove of poisonous pollies. But this lone capybara provided an opportunity too prosperous to ignore. Capybaras, which looked like over-sized rats, were far from her top choice of meats, but they were also clever and quick and she rarely laid eyes on one for more than a few seconds before it vanished from sight. She would not squander this chance to obtain one for dinner.

She felt the moment approaching, like a rhythm building towards a grand crescendo. Perhaps she got a little too excited, for she lifted her spear and shifted slightly. Then the capybara looked up.

A moment of stillness, as Serafina held her breath and the capybara strained its tiny little ears for other signs of danger. But its hunger trumped its fear, for at last it plunged its head back into the grenzo bush.

Serafina sprang. Her body launched upward, and all the coiled muscles of her body released their dormant strength into the shaft of her spear. The metal tip sliced the air faster than the eye could follow, flying wingless towards the vulnerable flesh of the little capybara…

…only to sink into empty soil.

Serafina blinked a few times, unbelieving. The capybara was gone, except for a faint brown blur on the edge of her vision. Somehow, it had reacted quickly enough to escape the bite of her weapon. The little wily bastard! Rage rushed through her, forcing her hands to clench until her nails stabbed her palms. She should have speared it. She had done everything right. Her stomach ached with hunger, and she wanted to appease it with that pesky little rodent!

At last she rushed forward to retrieve her spear, and she should have stopped there. She should have accepted defeat and begun the search for another source of sustenance. But her rage pushed her onward. And before she paused to consider the consequences, she raced after the capybara.

*

The capybara could scramble through tight tangles of vines and twigs in order to escape Serafina, so she needed to use her size to her advantage. Her legs pumped upwards and her hands slapped the gritty bark of a chinder tree. The forest floor shrank beneath her as she scrambled up the tree trunk. Her eyes scanned the maze of branches stretching skyward until she found a path forward. Then she climbed into the labyrinth.

Soon she soared above the forest floor from one branch to the next, her hands extending, gripping, and releasing in perfect harmony with the jumping of her feet. Leaves and twigs whipped her body as she sped through the intricate network of foliage, slicing her skin and drawing out tiny beads of blood. But she ignored every lash of pain, every ache of her muscles as she landed on one branch and pounced for another, as she fought to keep her balance and never lose momentum, and while her eyes searched tirelessly for tiny brown blur of the capybara far below.

She had already passed the point of no return, for she had broken the most important rule of surviving in the jungle: never rush into unknown territory. She did not know this part of the forest. She had no idea where she was going. She might not even know how to get back to where she started.

She had already placed herself in grave danger. So she might as well keep going.

Her state of mind had lost all equilibrium. The world started to brighten, as if a flood of light was pouring into the forest. She did not pay much attention. The strange vision could very well be a result of her panic, manifesting in the sensation that the shadows of the jungle faded into a white oblivion representing the unknown.

But the intensity of light surrounding Serafina was no trick of her subconscious. It was reality; a result of the fact that the canopy was thinning, that the trees spread out and left wider gaps between them, and that eventually she could no longer jump from branch to branch but had to jump back down into soil.

She kept running through the sparse trees, but she did not see the capybara. She saw nothing but a bright light ahead of her, growing brighter and brighter, like a huge tide of golden air pouring into the forest. Then reached the edge of the shadow, where nothing but light lay ahead of her.

She skidded to a stop, shook her head, and waited for her eyes to adjust.

Thousands of tall, skinny blades of yellow grass leaned into the wind. A vast blue sky stretched to infinity above and before her. So much light, so much open space… she felt like the emptiness would drown her. The breeze struck her body, an unusual sensation, sending tingles across her skin and dozens of new scents into her nose.

She had reached the edge of the jungle—which she must never leave—and stared for the first time into the great world beyond.

She struggled to breathe. Fear flowed through her limbs. Papa said that the world beyond the jungle was a terrible place, rife with evil humans and mind-bending illusions. The world beyond encompassed a human hive of greed, debauchery, and cruelty. The jungle consisted of physical danger, but the world beyond would poison her mind beyond repair.

She saw something moving in the grass. She took another step forward.

Then she saw a young man.

***

Watch the animated episode

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Animation

Episode 1 (Animation)

Serafina has grown up in a harsh jungle full of ferocious predators and crafty prey. She knows little of the world outside the jungle, and her only human contact has been with Arken, whom she looks to as a father.

But by the age of seventeen, Serafina’s desire to explore the world outside the jungle grows daily. And eventually, her curiosity may get the better of her…


ANIMATION PROCESS

Jenny does most of the animation using Adobe Photoshop CS6, Extended Edition. She draws each frame in a separate layer and uses the Timeline to string the frames together. After that, she brings the animated clips into After Effects for special effects, or Premiere Pro for editing. More details can be found on her Tumblr.

ANIMATION CREDITS

VOICE CAST
Serafina ~ Rebecca Gomez
Arken ~ David Dixon
Nikolaos ~ Andrew Graffham
Belatrix ~ Claire Ragusin
King Kallias ~ Andrew Graffham

Music by Jenny Gibbons
Sound design by Joshua Young
Some guards/extras drawn by Bettina Selsor

Jenny has been working entirely from out-of-pocket funds. To support her work, or maybe even an animated “Episode 2,” you may donate money using the Paypal button below.