Character Spotlights are a (bi)weekly Wednesday series where I talk about some of the characters from the novels I’m working on, or have already completed. They’ll just be little snippets of their lives so that you can get to know them a little, and hopefully one day read about them in a published book!
This week is a special one. Landon Ash is a character that’s going to stay with me until the end of time, and hopefully a character that you’ll someday come to love and cherish as I do. He also happened overnight.
It was a fateful time in my life when I first read Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. I read it over the course of two days in October 2017, and I felt like I was changed on the other side of it. Because I am an absolute nut, I waited an entire two weeks before diving into Crooked Kingdom because I wanted to be “ready for it.” I took my time with the sequel, stretching it out to a full three days.
And then, something odd happened.
I finished the sequel on a Wednesday. The following Sunday, a mere four days later, I went to bed dreaming of dastardly thieves and angry boys.
When I woke up, I had a name in my mouth: Landon Ash.
I knew nothing else about him except for that, but over the course of the next three days, I started to unravel him in a feverish attempt to understand. Who was this boy? Why was he so furious? What did he have to lose?
The cathedral was where it began. It would, incidentally, be where it ended, as well. Before the end of all things, though, there was only this: a Saint had come, and it was the priest’s fault.
All at once, things came clear.
The oldest of seven, Landon was born in a simpler time. His father was distant and cold, yes, but his mother had not yet succumbed to the control of her husband’s magic. She was bright and lively still, and Landon grew up feeling loved, feeling wanted. Hadley Ash cherished her little boy, and resolved to do everything in her power to keep him safe, both from the world and from his father.
As fate would decree, though, the Ash children were never meant to have an easy life. With the birth of his sister, Madison, their mother began to retreat little by little. Madison still grew up loved and wanted, but as the years waned on, as Henry arrived, as the distant, cold father took and took and took from his wife, Hadley Ash slowly began to disappear. It wasn’t until her last child, Sam, that Landon nearly lost everything.
After saving his mother from an attempted suicide, Landon shouldered the weight of raising three small children. He was barely five, but he braided Madison’s hair and tied Henry’s shoes and carried infant Sam with him around the large manor they called home. When, eventually, Henry lost his eyes and Madison tried to blow up the basement, Landon counted steps with his brother and weather their father’s abuse to save his sister. He tucked Sam in at night, hugged him as often as he could, and promised all of them that they would be okay.
But their father was not a man that dealt in okay.
He used Landon as an outlet for his anger until his oldest son was a shadow, until he could break without hurting, until the idea of staying always to protect his family wasn’t enough. And when Landon finally left, it was without the wide smiles and easy joy of his youth. It was, instead, with heavy shoulders and a permanent scowl.
It wasn’t long before the Saints came to be.
The first time Landon wound up in the Lowlands of his beloved city, it was to find that no one knew the name Landon Ash, despite how powerful his father claimed to be, and a little of the weight slouched off his shoulders. He came back again and again, wandering the slums and the sad markets, getting to know the city around him, until he stumbled across a mechanic’s shop where a young man was wrestling with the innards of a viper.
Landon had seen plenty of vipers before. His father owned several, and it was his usual mode of transportation. Whenever they went to the cathedral for service during his youth, Landon sat in the passenger seat and gripped the leather beneath him as the car rumbled all around him. But he’d never seen one quite like this, torn apart and gaping open and strewn in pieces all over the cracked concrete.
He leaned against the metal fence, watching the boy curse at parts even as he scrubbed them clean. When the boy finally noticed him, he did it with a, “Well, are you just going to stand there looking lost or help?”
And that was how Landon met Miles.
For weeks, Landon twisted through the city, taking new paths through the Midlands so he might know that part of his city, too, but always ending up at the garage where Miles worked. Miles was easy to like, easy to talk to, and just easy in general. He didn’t care about much but food at the end of the day and somewhere to rest his head, so when Landon asked him to take a walk one afternoon, Miles shrugged and said sure. It wasn’t until they were deep in the Lowlands, standing outside a black house with a red door, that something finally started happening.
“Alright,” Miles said. He leaned toward Landon, but didn’t touch him, and this was something Landon had come to understand. He let Miles make the first moves, let him touch when he felt comfortable, but never did so on his own. It would be some weeks still before Miles looped a warm arm, fingers stained with grease, across Landon’s shoulders and offered him a wide beam. It would be some weeks still before they purchased the deed for that house, before Miles tucked up against him, before Landon finally realized that home didn’t have to be something to fear.
After that, the Saints came together organically. Landon took up residence on the third floor of their new house, and he told Miles the Saints would come to them. Miles snorted and showed Landon how to make bread from scratch. But come they did. First, Madison, wandering away from the heavy hand of their father and the ice that had infiltrated their manor. Second, Vivian, shivering from the cold and with a knock that shouldn’t have garnered any attention, but when she asked for a place to stay, Landon opened the door wider. And third, final, Ezra, dragged up through the Lowlands bloody and breaking, and shown that family could be found, not tied together by blood.
Landon took them in, one by one, fostering himself a family that felt right, that felt wanted. He took in the lost, the broken, the confused. He took in those searching for home, and those who’d never understood love. He took in people his father would hate, and he gave them somewhere to belong.
Slowly, Landon began to shift the attitude of the Lowlands. He started bartering for peace, offering protection for loyalty, smuggling the persecuted out to safety, and piece by piece creating a legacy, a whispered prayer, the Saints.
In a city that hated magic, Landon protected those with and without. He saved families from being torn apart. He secured passage out of the city for those who needed it. He stood against the rage of his father, intending only to be the light to his father’s dark, and instead became a king.
The Lowlands, starved of love and wanting, backed Landon without question. They wore his bones, and they pledged their quiet allegiance. They looked to their king of Saints when in need, and they showed him gratitude when he answered.
Slowly, the attitude of the Lowlands began to shift. They were not dying anymore. They were not run-down and cracked with giving up. They were learning how to thrive, and in time, they would rise.
Before long, Landon had made enough noise that his beloved cathedral started to notice, and in a rash act of hatred and violence against magic, they stole into his home, his black house with the red door, and they took one of his own.
This was a thing Isaiah Ash did not know: a devil had risen in the wake of his son and was waiting in the shadows to set the world on fire.
When Landon woke in the morning to find Ezra gone–not just one of his family, but a boy he had come to love–something dark slithered into place.
He was one of many, yes, the Saints who were saving their city, but he was also one, the Saint, a king he’d never meant to be, but a king nonetheless. And beneath a mask of bones and with a heart as cold as death, Landon waited.
Three days later, the cathedral returned Ezra to them. Bloody and breaking. They could not cure the magic, the evil, inside of him, and so they turned him out. They realized the grave mistake they had made, and in their inability to kill this abominable boy, they prepared for the king of Saints’ wrath.
He came in the early hours of morning, before the sun had begun to rise.
He came quietly, and in his wake, he left a dead priest and a message.
If it was war the cathedral wanted, then war they would have.
For despite all that he had undergone, Landon knew what it meant to be loved, what it meant to be wanted, and he would never allowed that to be stripped away again.
In an hour, the bells of Widald Cathedral would ring in mourning, and the city would flood its halls, vultures drawn to tragedy. But it was not yet morning, and the Highlands of Oberá were still doused in a quiet, sleepy darkness. They did not see the Saint slip out through a side door in the cathedral, did not see him loop the marble courtyard with quick strides into an alley where his hellcat waited, did not see the moment the Saint disappeared, and Landon Ash arrived.
Oh, Landon. If you’re still curious about his story, the Saintsverse tag contains everything I’ve ever posted about Landon’s universe.
What do you think? Would you weep over Landon’s sad boy aesthetic? Because I do constantly. Would you enjoy having him as a main character in a book? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!