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Excerpt from Thorn Changer by Christy Reed
The sun had risen again over the distant hills when the thrush finally landed. Soon Skey replaced it. She rubbed her shoulder. The ache was there, but less than after her last flight.
Another poultice or two, and she’d be out of herbs.
But her shoulder should be fine to heal on its own then.
She stared back the way she’d come, scanning the edge of the woods far behind. Her heart was playing a rapid song in her chest. She wiped the sweat from her brow, and let out a misty sigh. He’d been the same man who’d stopped her in the market square.
Maybe he’d get lost in that forest for good.
Or maybe he’d keep following her.
She shook her head. He couldn’t follow her now. You couldn’t track a bird through the air. Even if he did somehow pick up her trail again, by the time he and his men made their way out of the forest, she would’ve disappeared into the countryside of Beolki. She might even be hidden away in a lord’s castle as his minstrel. Why worry about it?
But her heart was heavy. Cinote must have found that map. How had he sent men here so quickly though? Even if they had boarded that ship, it wouldn’t have reached the harbor before she had. And that man had already been in the market, as if he had been waiting…
She strode on. Her boots whispered as they crunched the snow. A message of hope? Or was it one of despair? She shivered again. Only this time it wasn’t from the cold.
Eventually, her steps led her to the top of a tall hill. A city sat in the valley below. It was sure to have a tavern that’d be interested in her playing. She went down the hill, and started toward the speck of a city in the distance.
There were no cottages or little farms here. Was she nearing the border? Who knew in this weird place? Besides the city, all she could see was a white desert of snow. She shivered as a wind came up, and huddled deeper in her cloak. She took off her metal studded gloves, and shoved them into her belt pouch. She definitely would have to find some place to stay until winter was over. She would never make it to the north coast in this weather. It was much colder here than in Arilan.
The sun was past the middle of the sky. In places, the snow had turned into damp slush, churning up the smell of earth. It wasn’t a city, or even a town. It looked like a barricaded army camp. What on earth was it doing there? Was it a settlement for a new city? Or a prisoner camp? Oh well. It didn’t matter. It actually made things all the better. The soldiers probably were bored out of their wits. They’d look forward to her songs, and be grateful. And grateful ones always gave more.
A line of guards stood along the outer wall. She stopped, and ducked behind a tree. She studied them. Why would there be so many soldiers guarding it, unless something was wrong? Maybe she’d better turn back.
Her jaw tightened. She strode on toward the gate. No, she wouldn’t give up this chance to make a few coins, and maybe a dinner. Her stomach growled, and gnawed at her in its protest of the almost two-day fast. Maybe there were robbers hiding in this lonely plain. Or that man Foaie the tavern owner had been talking about. That’d be reason enough to increase the guard.
Burning wood and some sort of stew reached her as she sauntered toward the gate, and waved a hand as she drew near. How you acted in army camps couldn’t be much different than the way you did in taverns. “Greetings. Be there any interest in the songs of a minstrel at your camp?”
The guards at the gate ignored her, and stared on ahead. That was weird. Not to mention rude. Maybe they hadn’t heard her. “Excuse me,” she stopped right in front of the one on the left. “Would your camp like to hear the music of a minstrel?”
Still no answer. She looked from one guard to the other. Each had a long angry scar running down their left cheek. Their eyes looked almost glazed over. Were they dead? Or maybe asleep?
She tugged on the right one’s sleeve. Maybe the captain would like to hear a song or two. “Excuse me, where could I find your captain?”
“I am the general.” She froze, and turned to the voice.
Sharp gray eyes met hers, staring out of a weather-roughed face. Ice-blond hair streamed to the massive shoulders. Was he a Mekain, or a giant? She bowed stiffly, and held out her harp. Her elbow twitched. “I am a minstrel. I was wondering if you would care for some music?”
He folded his well-muscled arms across his mighty chest, and surveyed her. Had his freezing stare turned her to ice? “So I see. Are you any good?”
Skey forced a laugh. Why had she stopped here? Her left hand reached up to brush back her hair. “Well, I suppose I am. I’ve never—”
The general seized her about the waist with one arm while his hand clamped onto both her wrists. “Shut the gates.”
The soldiers sprung to life. The gates banged closed. Skey struggled to loosen herself. Why had she stopped here? “This isn’t the way to treat a minstrel!”
He laughed. “Oh, don’t worry, you won’t be harmed, Skey.” His smile grew cruel. “At least not if you cooperate with Lord Foaie’s wishes.”
Skey slipped a hand free, and struck him across the face. “I know nothing that you or Foaie would want to know.”
He wiped away the blood from his lip. “Ah, that’s what you think, lass. You’ve much to learn.”
“I’d prefer different teachers,” she kicked him hard in the shin.
His grip slackened. Skey broke free, and struck him again. She darted toward the back of the camp. There had to be another way out.
“Seize her.” Metal clanged against metal. But no shouts. Skey glanced behind. Maybe they weren’t—several guards were yards away. She ran faster. Every face she had caught a glimpse of had the same strange scar running down it. Were these the Iezomen?
There was the gate, straight ahead of her, with not a guard in sight. And still open. She ran faster. Sweat dripped down her brow, racing down her face as she raced to the gate. Metal clanged closer. Behind her the general shouted something. An orange light flashed by her head, the warmth grazing her cheek. She had to get to that gate.
The orange light struck the closing gate. Two bounds brought her there. It wasn’t fast enough. The gates banged shut just as she reached them.
She whirled about. Those strange scarred soldiers blocked off her path. Splinters dug into her shoulder blades as she braced against the gate. How could she escape this? The sea of soldiers parted, as the general strode forward. His right hand was gloved, and glowed with the same orange light. Was that magic?
Green filled her vision. The general shook his head. “You are clueless, aren’t you?” His gloved hand shone brightly. The leather cracked across her face. Orange light shoved out the green, acrid anise and cinnamon flooded her nose as cold earth surrounded her knees. Everything blurred and faded. “Foaie has much to talk to you about,” his voice rang out as if from a distance. His image blended with the rest. Everything went dark.
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That's the end of Chapter Three Part Four. 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 Four Part One will be available on Monday.