It's been a while since I've posted a longer excerpt, so here is a little segment. It's impossible to avoid all spoilers, but I try quite carefully to ensure no *major* spoilers are given away. This segment comes from fairly early on in the novel, and features the return of a certain sarcastic tree spirit who first appeared in Destined. If you've already read my novella Bound and the short story "Faerie Stones," the references to Sam, Sarah, and Wendy will not be confusing. If you haven't read either, I highly suggest you do so--at least before Hidden comes out this December. They are not required reading by any means (you will still be able to follow the plot of Hidden if you have only read Destined), but they will certainly help introduce these fun three characters and give you a better sense of their relationship with Mari and Gren. Anywho, I hope you enjoy this little snippet, in which our hapless heroes are chilling in a tavern in northern Nomansland awaiting instructions for their next journey.
Sarah, eyeing Mari’s half-drunk wine, commented, “You have got to be the slowest drinker I have ev—what in the seven hells is a leshii doing in the Alpines?”
The whole table followed Sarah’s astonished gaze. The leshii in question stood out from the crowd even more than the humans had. Despite the winter weather, the petite woman wore nothing more than a sleeveless ivory tunic that fell in soft folds to just above her knees, secured by twisting vines entwined about her waist. Flaming red hair tangled about her shoulders, shedding bits of leaf whenever she tossed her head and revealing pointed ears just a hair smaller than that of the evrae who surrounded her. The tankard of sparkling cider she held dwarfed her hand, and her skin, white as birch bark, glowed a pale green in the scattered illumination from the chandeliers, yet she cast no shadow. When she turned and made eye contact with Mari, a bright smile of recognition flashed across her fine-boned face.
Brae’s bare feet skimmed across the floor as she approached them. “Mari, Gren! What a lovely surprise!” she saluted, depositing her cider on the table and hauling over a chair between Gren and Ruv. “What brings you to the frosty north this wretched time of year?”
Perceiving no reason to hide the true reason for their visit from someone who had helped them so much during their previous one, Mari answered, “A mission from the Spinner. We’re meeting one of Laria’s contacts here with the details at some point in the near future. You?”
“Oh, nothing nearly so exciting,” Brae said between glugs of cider. “I’m just on my way back from visiting my sister. She moved a little further north, testing her limits. She can stay away from her roots for a full year now.”
Ruv sniffed in the direction of Brae’s tankard. “Did you add quartz to that?” he asked.
Brae looked coyly out of the side of her eyes as she responded, “But of course! It enhances the flavors. One shot is good, two is better.”
“Oh, I think I’m going to like you,” Ruv disclosed.
Shortly thereafter the tavern activity noticeably picked up with many of the patrons milling about the room or acquiring additional food and drinks. “I do believe it’s time for another round,” Sarah declared, scrutinizing the crowd. “Anyone want anything? Actually, no. You’re all getting quartz, and you’re all going to like it.”
“I don’t intend to get completely goosed, you know,” Wendy said. She removed her glasses to polish them on the hem of her shirt. “Last time that happened I woke up with a tattoo I don’t remember getting.”
“I’ll help you carry,” Sam offered with a wink as he rose and joined his sister.
“Are we just going to ignore the fact that Wendy has a tattoo?” Gren insisted. Wendy exchanged a glance with Mari, the only other person in the present group to have seen her tattoo, and grinned sheepishly.
Ruv tapped his fingers on the table and considered Wendy. “What’s it of?” he eventually asked, his normally jovial expression neutral.
Wendy stared at her empty bowl. “Just a few feathers falling from my left shoulder and down my bicep. I liked it the next morning, so I kept it.”
Gren and Ruv both dipped their heads appreciatively, but Sarah just rolled her eyes and sashayed into the crowd, her brother Sam following close behind her. While normally lithe and graceful, Sarah had suddenly developed a case of the clumsies, bumping into the tavern’s clientele right and left. She also appeared to have developed an abundance of cordiality that was likewise out of character. Her victims, distracted by Sarah’s gushing apologies, failed to notice Sam’s quick fingers.
However, their activity did not go unnoticed by Brae. “That disreputable pair of sanguines over there,” she said with a nod in the twins’ direction, “friends of yours?”
“Sorta. It’s complicated,” Mari equivocated. “I suppose now’s a good time to fill you in.” Mari and Gren then recounted the tale of the rest of their journey to the Spinner’s sanctuary—how they met Ruv and his wolf pack and then parted with Laria and Hal—as well as how they rescued the twins from Kutkah’s cave, then came to meet Wendy in Scotland.
Brae listened attentively to Mari and Gren’s abbreviated account of the past few years’ events, then summarized her own travels since she had last seen them in Vesna’s cottage. Halfway through Brae’s tale, Sarah and Sam had returned to the table, arms laden with tiny crystal glasses and a large decanter of the pungent liquid every bit as colorless and iridescent as its namesake. When they resumed their seats, no one was surprised to hear their pockets jingle. Brae raised an eyebrow and tossed Sarah a knowing smile, but made no comment as she continued her story. Once she had finally finished, she asked, “So, where is this Spinner’s mission of yours taking you? If it’s somewhere I haven’t been before, I’d like to tag along.”
“Ya sure?” Mari said, searching Brae’s emerald eyes. “We don’t know where we’re going yet, or even what exactly it is we’re supposed to do. We could be gone a while, and I know you can’t stay away from your roots for too long.”
Brae took a sizable swallow from her quartz-spiked cider. “I could do for a bit of spontaneity,” she said. “Besides, you humans are, if nothing else, never boring.” She fluttered her lashes at Ruv, then turned back to Mari. “Give me a few days to get in touch with my stationary half—I haven’t been back to the Birch Forest in half a year as it is—and then, if you’re still around when I return, I’ll join your little adventure.”
Mari and Gren exchanged pensive looks. “It could help to have an Aorean native with us,” Gren admitted. “There’s still a lot we don’t know about this world.”
Sarah, Sam, and Wendy all nodded their accord. Mari extended a hand toward Brae and said, “Deal.”
Brae took the offered hand, smiled, and downed the remainder of her cider. As she made to leave, Gren inquired, “Do you want me to sing you down to the Birch Forest and back?”
Brae returned the suggestion with an ambiguous smile. “No need. I can get there and back by my own means in about five days, and as I’m sure remember, I’m not on the best of terms with my own kind…I wouldn’t want to announce my presence with a big splash of magic like circle travel would trigger.” Witnessing the human’s stunned expressions in response to her claim—for who could possibly travel hundreds of miles both ways by foot in only a few days?—she rolled her eyes and quoted, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio.” She glided toward the tavern door and slipped into the night.