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Excerpt from Thorn Changer by Christy Reed
“No,” Skey mumbled, tossing onto her other side. “No, don’t.”
A scream. The warrior’s sword ran through the lady.
Fire ran through her shoulder.
She sat up with a shriek, gripping her shoulder. “No.”
Darkness filled the loft. Downstairs, snoring. She shuddered. What a nightmare. The throbbing in her shoulder subsided. She undid the bandage. The swelling was down, the skin not such an angry red. She’d only jarred it just now.
She retied the bandage and lay back down, twisting the blanket around her fingers. What an awful dream. Flashes of the man with gleaming eyes, eyes she couldn’t tell the color of, went through her mind again. She trembled, and pulled the blanket up to her chin. No, not again.
What had caused it? She hadn’t had a single nightmare after a year as the emperor’s minstrel, after a year in that cage. Her life had been enough of one. But now… A low moan escaped her before she could stop it.
She should go back to sleep. Dawn would be here soon, and the tavern owner wouldn’t be happy if she was still here. But what if it came again? She shivered, and stared up at the low roof of the attic. Maybe she should just stay awake…
Skey opened her eyes and stretched, shaking her head. A weak beam of light broke through the roof, straight into her face. She didn’t remember falling asleep again.
She was still tired. She shouldn’t have stayed up so late playing. “Oh well,” she yawned, as she pulled on her boots and picked up her harp. “Might as well get used to it. That kind of thing’s done all the time in the nobles’ castles, I’m sure. It was in Arilan.”
She rose from the straw mattress, and crept to the ladder leading down from the loft onto the second floor of the tavern. Snores from the guests broke through the early morning stillness. She snuck down the stairs, and into the main room of the tavern. The barmaid was already up, stoking the fire. She nodded at Skey, and then pointed at a small loaf of bread. Skey smiled her thanks, and picked it up as she slipped out the door into the chill air.
A thick blanket of snow snuggled the ground. It’d come early this year, at least compared to Arilan. Skey breathed deeply of the chill air, and smiled. All of this snow would be reason enough for her to seek a place in a lord’s castle. But the owner had said… Skey redid her braid as she thought over the man’s words, making sure a big enough chunk of hair was loose to fall over the left side of her face, her headband underneath it. Did minstrels only stay in border towns in this country?
What country was this, anyway? She shouldn’t have lost that map. It had taken four months to steal it. What had it said…Miagulo, was it? Yes, that had to be it. The song, after all, had been “The War Song of Miagulo.”
That song… A chill went up her spine. Something about it… What was even the word to describe how it made her feel? It wasn’t afraid, but it wasn’t exactly comforting, either. Somewhere in between…maybe it was almost beckoning? Yes, like it was inviting her to come closer, but she was too afraid to.
Another ray of light poured into her face. She shielded her eyes. Even through the snow, a path marked up its center. She shouldered her harp, and started up it.
When she reached the top, Skey stopped, and let her eyes wander around the landscape. She hadn’t realized in the darkness of last night that there were so many houses around here. Several small farms dotted the countryside in front of her, fringing the path she was traveling. As she continued on, sheep bleated impatiently in their folds to be milked. Hens clucked about in irritation, still trapped in the hen house she passed by. On top of the roof a rooster strutted about, ruffling his feathers and preening himself. A proud and graceful king waiting for the freedom of his queens.
She laughed, and then sighed as she turned back and went on her way. All these little farms…they weren’t much different from Arilan. And that city hadn’t been that much different from her father’s own city…
She shoved her fingers through her hair, and then took out her braid once more. Well, so what? Had she really expected them to be different? Houses were houses, cities cities. She started to redo her braid. Why was she thinking about them anyway? They betrayed her.
She picked up her pace, her fingers working furiously. She was free, finally free. She would find some castle, which did not have a minstrel, in this weird country where you were questioned and thought to be a deserter if you weren’t at the border, and just stay there until her shoulder healed enough for the long flight to Mekai, or at least to the coast where she could catch a ship. That empire loved minstrels, or so Zeino had said. And no traitorous…
She stopped short, her fingers frozen. Where had that come from? She wasn’t going to think about them. Her eyes closed, and the day she had been taken to the Tower to play only for the emperor forced itself back through her mind. She bit her lips, and shook her head. But the images, the words, remained.
Form Changer. Danger. Must be locked up. Will bring harm to everyone. For the best.
Whose best? Definitely not her own.
She fastened the braid, and dashed down the path toward the forest, her boots crunching the snow like the stories of dark hawks crushing victims in their fierce beaks. The story no one would believe.
Someone had traveled the path last night, or at least long enough ago for the snow to melt and harden into ice. Her foot slipped. She fell, and slid through the trees into the outer circle of the forest. She lay there a moment, her face to the ground, the cold soothing her shoulder. She raised herself up on an elbow, and looked around.
Her face had made a shallow hollow in the snow. She carefully tried to patch it, then stopped. No amount of filling could repair the crater in her heart. Something glimmered above her head. She looked up into a mirror of ice hanging from one of the trees. She rose to her knees, and shoved aside the hair over her left temple as she undid the wet bandage. The odd birthmark that had been there ever since she could remember still remained.
Her eyes traced the purple outline of the eagle, no bigger than her thumb from the first knuckle to the tip. The curves that almost looked like strange letters circling the bird. A strange symbol. A strike against her. When her form changing was more than enough to condemn her. She looked up again. Her reflection glared back at her. The only one who separated her from her family, from the entire world.
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That's the end of Chapter Three Part One. I hope you enjoyed it. For right now, Thorn Changer is available exclusively on Amazon. Feel free to share this excerpt, just please include all text between the asterisks (* * *), as well as a link to Thorn Changer's Amazon page. This will give your viewers a link to where they can purchase Thorn Changer if they're interested. Thanks.
Chapter Three Part Two will be available tomorrow.