Neverdark by C.S. Einfeld
By C.S. Einfeld
Published in 2011
This YA fantasy novel was set in the land of Doru – in our eyes, a very old oak tree – which consisted of four faerie kingdoms, namely The Kingdom of Northbark, The Kingdom of the Western Leaves, The Kingdom of the Eastern Branches, and The Kingdom of Southnut.
The story began when the King of Northbark’s right-hand man, Minister Birchwood Darkwater, took over the administration of the kingdom and became the steward. The King Huckleberry had been dysfunctional for some time following his heartbreak over the banishment of his son from the land. The king was then advised to go into a deep sleep until his son returns, lest he dies of heartbreak and despair. And thus all Northbark administrative matters were handed over to Lord Darkwater.
Lord Darkwater proved to be a very intelligent and capable leader, and he brought much development and prosperity to the kingdom, most notably from his policy of extracting the valuable Oak syrup from its wells (very much like petroleum).
The Oak syrup was one of the most important natural resource in the whole of Doru, which had multiple uses: apart from being consumed as food by the faeries and animals which lived there, Oak syrup was also used in crop fertilizations, construction, and textile weaving. The faeries also used Oak syrup as a sort of polish for their wings maintenance.
The faeries of Northbark became very wealthy from their kingdom’s modernization. Soon, the Kingdom of the Western Leaves asked Lord Darkwater to expand Northbark’s Oak syrup drilling operations into its territory, too. The Western Leaves became similarly prosperous, and the young and lazy King of the Western Leaves decided to install Lord Darkwater as the kingdom’s overlord.
Meanwhile, the Lord Darkwater had also been acting as steward for the Kingdom of the Eastern Branches, while the kingdom’s own king and crown prince were away to fight in a prolonged war. As it is, Lord Darkwater practically ruled over the whole of Doru – except the Kingdom of Southnut, which was ruled over by the King Utor Goldenoak.
In recent years, as a result of Lord Darkwater’s non-stop drilling, the Oak syrup wells in Doru began to deplete and soon began to affect the health of their land (the oak tree). The tree became sick, shrivelling, and dying – especially towards the northern region of Doru. Animals such as the birds and squirrels began to leave Doru and migrated to other lands.
Lord Darkwater realized this, but he was more concerned about the drying Oak syrup wells rather than the dying tree. When he heard news that Southnut still had some Oak syrup wells going steady, Lord Darkwater began to calculate his next move.
Rumours had it that the Princess Fiera of Southnut was the “Heart of the Generation”, who – according to the prophets of the past – had the powers to protect Doru and bring back prosperity to the land following dark times. Lord Darkwater assumed that it was Princess Fiera’s powers that kept Southnut’s Oak syrup supply running.
And so, Lord Darkwater decided to marry Princess Fiera and use her powers for his own benefit.
But the feisty Princess Fiera refused to be married off to Lord Darkwater. Firstly, she was still not of age enough (according to the faerie life cycle) to marry. And more importantly, Lord Darkwater had proposed to her in such a sinister manner, namely through the bullying of the King Utor into accepting his proposal.
Lord Darkwater had practically surrounded Southnut with his vast army and laid siege to the castle. He had threatened to attack, and so King Utor had reluctantly agreed to marry off his daughter to Lord Darkwater in three days time. Lord Darkwater promised that his army will remain sedate during the three days – but if King Utor broke the agreement on the marriage, the army would invade the kingdom.
Meanwhile, Princess Fiera was also scheming a way out of this mess. It was obvious to the princess’ governess, the Lady Gooseberry, that Lord Darkwater’s marriage proposal had something to do with the Oak syrup supply in Southnut. So she suggested that Princess Fiera travel to the topmost tip of the oak tree to find Old Mother Oak Tree – the great spirit of the oak tree of Doru – to plead for help.
Impossible or not, Princess Fiera was supposed to return to Southnut by the third day – the supposed wedding day – so that Lord Darkwater will not know what was happening. Immediately, Princess Fiera made her journey northwards with only her pet firefly, Sparky, for company.
“...no quest, no matter how easy or hard, is ever accomplished without first the will to see it done.” (Lady Gooseberry, page 52)
Meanwhile, news about the disappearance of Princess Fiera reached Lord Darkwater quickly through his spies. Angered, Lord Darkwater unleashed his own army – squadrons of dragonflies, as well as bats – to scour the whole of Doru for the princess.
Lady Gooseberry had earlier advised Princess Fiera against flying, for she could be detected by Lord Darkwater’s henchmen on air. Thus the princess had travelled on ground level, which was safer – albeit slower.
Princess Fiera made many new friends along the way. She met the ants first, which helped her travel through the underground tunnels and also escape a faerie-eating spider. She then met Manuel the crow, who unintentionally saved her from being eaten by a woodpecker. Later, Prince Delvin the caterpillar brought her travel far north enough that she had saved more time than she had expected. And finally, Princess Fiera met Hamish MacSquirrel, a squirrel who – despite his sly and grumpy demeanour – took her to the topmost level of the oak tree, and introduced her to an Old Father Willow, who was supposed to know where to find Old Mother Oak Tree.
“Isn’t it wonderful how things that at first look awful, sometimes turn out for the best in the end?” (Princess Fiera, page 155)
Old Father Willow hailed from Northbark, and he used to be the Lord Willow: Lord Darkwater’s teacher and later, colleague! Lord Willow had worked with Lord Darkwater to advance the technologies in Northbark, including the inventing of the Oak syrup drill. When Lord Willow realized that the uncontrolled drilling of the Oak syrup had destroyed the environment as well as the homes of many tree creatures, he decided to speak against continuing the operations. As a result, Lord Willow was banished from Northbark and ended up there, in Neverdark – since.
Neverdark was the place on the highest point of that oak tree, and it was named so because the place never went into complete darkness even at night (this was, actually, due to the light from a street lamp nearby).
When asked about Old Mother Oak Tree, Old Father Willow told Princess Fiera that she was already very near the place where he first found Old Mother Oak Tree. Old Mother Oak Tree could only be seen by those who came to search for her for unselfish reasons only.
The next morning, Princess Fiera and Old Father Willow found Old Mother Oak Tree – very sick, and almost dying. But Princess Fiera was really the Heart of the Generation, and with her powers she managed to revive Old Mother Oak Tree again. During the healing process, both Old Mother Oak Tree and Princess Fiera had shed so much tears that it had pooled around them, and Old Father Willow realized that anyone who had contact with that pool of tears would feel sudden empathy towards the plight of Old Mother Oak Tree.
And so, Old Father Willow – now feeling like Lord Willow again – knew he must distribute the tears to the whole of Doru so that all faerie in the land will realize what destruction had befallen their world while they were greedily harvesting Oak syrup non-stop.
Lord Willow was then assisted by the ants, Manuel the crow, Prince Delvin the caterpillar, and Hamish MacSquirrel to distribute the water through the cisterns of all four kingdoms. So soon, all faeries in Doru unknowingly drank the water and were overwhelmed with regret over the dying tree.
The faeries of Doru then all travelled northwards to Neverdark to help Old Mother Oak Tree heal, and along the way they removed and destroyed all Oak syrup drills which had been injuring the tree all these while.
Eventually, Lord Darkwater himself unknowingly consumed the water sourced from the magical tears of Old Mother Oak Tree and Princess Fiera – and it changed his life forever. He immediately realized his mistakes and fell into a despair over the injuries he had inflicted upon the tree. However, the wise Lady Gooseberry managed to stop him from slipping into further anguish that would bring destruction to his own life. Lord Darkwater was still needed in Doru after all!
“...despair does not, in itself, kill faeries (or other good creatures), rather, it kills hope. And without hope, a good creature’s will to live just simply... evaporates.” (Prince Delvin, page 169)
Lord Darkwater had been known as the most intelligent faerie on Doru, and he still is. So Lady Gooseberry made him realize that his bright mind could help restore the health of the oak tree, in which it could also help him redeem himself.
Not long after, the reformed Lord Darkwater helped create a medicinal ointment which healed all the oak tree’s wounds. He also found a more sustainable way to harvest Oak syrup more responsibly. Lord Darkwater was later known as Lord Birchwood Clearwater, Healer of the Oak Tree (and no, he did not marry Princess Fiera).