A Taste of “Atterwald,” #1

This weekend is an exciting one for me: my first signing and public reading of Atterwald! I’ll be getting together with some of my fellow authors at Gilded Dragonfly Books, and in addition to my novel, we’ll also be selling and signing the anthology Finding Love’s Magic and C.C. Ansardi’s novel Shaman Woman. It all takes place at Cafe’ JAYA in Stone Mountain, GA, this Sunday, June 7, between 2:30 and 5:30 p.m.

What better time to share an excerpt from Atterwald, the first in a series. This one introduces Brendis, a young hal’ryth’kei (shape-shifter) in the throes of a first crush.

1824

Brendis had always loved to watch the owl-people parade into view at sunset, riding proud upon their deer. Lately, however, he had a special reason to stare. He laid his hoe down at his feet, licked his upper lip and frowned at the stinging salty taste of sweat. He looked up and out toward the rim of trees on the horizon. He held his breath at the clop of deer’s hooves….

The first owls emerged from the wood — silver-haired gentlemen in top hats and black, sharply tailored frock coats, nodding with regal condescension at the mouse-people at work in the field. Why they did that, Brendis could not say, for the mouse-folk paid no heed to the parade. Only he seemed to know the owls were even there.

More owl-folk appeared, all in neat frock-coats, all with slim, bolt-straight figures. A tiny part of him hated them and their beauty and aristocratic mien. He loathed finding himself transfixed by them.

His stomach spun as his special reason rode into view. Unlike the others, she wore a riding-suit of pale gray, with a white kerchief about her neck and a gauzy veil streaming down her back. But even without these odd color choices, she would have stood out from the rest. Some of them might wear their honey-gold hair in ringlets. Some of them might have skin like white rose-petals while others might boast soft oval faces with clear gray eyes, but all these beautiful features combined in her alone. Even they might have added up to nothing but for her smile, so wistful and pensive that he constantly wondered what she might be thinking.

Brendis had to think of the golden maiden by some name or other, so he invented one for her, Verina, the Glory of Her People. This satisfied him for now. To present himself to her and learn her true name would content him for good.

But his kind did not speak to hers. He remembered asking his mother just why this was. She had sniffed a non-answer. “Because it isn’t done. All we need to know about them is that they’re there.”

Brendis had vowed then and there never to ask his mother a serious question again. In the five years since, he’d kept that vow….

The leader of the parade, the tallest and proudest-looking of the silver-haired gentlemen mounted on a six-pointed stag, folded into himself. His shoulders shrank and his arms and limbs retracted, and suddenly, where a man had been a wide-winged gray owl hovered in mid-air.

On their leader’s signal the other owl-folk transformed. Brendis, his gaze locked on Verina, saw her melt into a ball of snowy bright feathers. She stretched her wings, and with the others she rose and soared over the jagged treetops.

Watching them disappear into the horizon, he heard his brother grumble, “Don’t see why you stare at the owls. They’re not doing anything remarkable, only changing shape.”

“It’s beautiful when they do it.”

“Why?”

“Because they take wing. Imagine what it’d be like to be bound to the ground one minute and then take to the sky the next.”

Arne responded with a grunt and a shake of his head.

Brendis turned his eyes from his brother to the deepening sunset sky. Where had she disappeared to? What might she be looking on right now? Sometimes, when he thought very hard about her, he could imagine himself flying with her, the wind under his toes. He could even catch the sharp green scent of the pines below.

Such fantasies were generally fleeting, but lately they’d been growing clearer, more intense, giving him hope of a time to come when he might linger long enough in the air to tell himself he wasn’t dreaming. In the sky with her was the place he most wished to be. Something strange growing inside him whispered he might find himself there yet.

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