Following up from the sample of “Gingerbread And Ash” that I provided last month, here’s a sample from “The Claws Of The Hunt,” the second short story I have in the Fairytale Dragons anthology. Enjoy!
“Hail, Sir Lorant of Gelbridge.”
Lorant pulled on Ash’s reins until the warhorse wheeled about. The road he traveled cut through the heart of the Godslost Forest. No towns or villages stood within its bounds. None fit for a mortal, at any rate.
“Who goes there?” His hand fell to his sword hilt.
“One who would speak to you in peace.” The voice came from everywhere and nowhere, echoing from shafts of light piercing the canopy. “Will you give me your word that we might do so?”
Ash whickered, dancing from side to side. Lorant steadied him with a hand to his neck. “I don’t even know who you are. And I have no time for delays.”
Laughter like birdsong rippled around him. “Ah yes. You return home, do you not? But you will not find what you seek there.”
Shadows shifted in the lee of a lightning-scarred oak, and a woman emerged, clad in gossamer and crowned with a circlet of holly. Her eyes glittered gold as she smiled. “I am here. Now may I have your word?”
Drawing his sword, Lorant leveled it at the woman. Her expression didn’t shift, but she leaned back. “Why would I give my word to one of your kind?”
“Ah.” The woman’s smile widened. “So you know of us.”
“The knights of our realm are educated in the ways of the fae. I know your kind all too well.”
Gesturing at him, she asked, “With all your fine steel armor, Sir Lorant, do you expect me to be a threat to you? I wish only to speak.”
Lorant stared at her, grinding his teeth. Every moment spent confronting this creature kept him from home and reunion with Angela, but if the legends were true, ignoring the fae could be more dangerous than humoring them.
He rammed his sword into its scabbard. “You have my word as a knight.”
The faerie smiled. “How gracious. I am Seona, of the Count of the Erlking.”
“And what is it you want of me?”
“Can you not guess? To invite you to come with me to the emerald paths.”
“Then spare us both the bother. You will not tempt me.”
Seona’s eyes glittered. “Indeed. You long for your beloved. Lady Angela, yes?”
“How do you know her name?”
“Why, I’ve met her. In the Erlking’s court. Such fine hair she has, like sunflowers on a cloudy day.”
Lorant froze. “What?”
“And her dancing. Quite lovely.”
Lorant leapt from Ash’s back, whipping his sword free. “You lie! I should cut you down for those words!”
Seona’s eyes widened. “Do you not know? My people cannot lie. I came to offer to help you free her.”
“She is at Gelbridge, not in your court of devils!”
“As you say. But I make you this bargain. Go in peace to your home. See for yourself that Angela is not there. Then return, if you wish to win her back. I will await you here.”
Glaring at her, Lorant mounted Ash and spurred him into a gallop.
When Gelbridge Manor came into view, Ash was staggering along the road, his coat covered in froth. How long he’d been galloping before he lost his strength, Lorant didn’t know. The whole ride was little more than a blur in his mind. He dropped from Ash’s back and walked him to the front door, his hand tight around the reins.
There was no reason to worry. Angela would be there to greet him. The faerie witch was a liar and a temptress. Her words were worth nothing.
Except, what she had said was true. The fae could not tell an outright lie. So said the loremasters, at any rate. And Seona said she had seen Angela at the Erlking’s court.
Fire Above, please, let her be well. Let her be here.
As he neared the door, a groom rushed from the stables to meet him. “Sir Lorant! We didn’t expect you—”
“Where is Lady Angela?”
The groom recoiled. “I—y-you should speak to Mortant. He—”
Lorant shoved Ash’s reins into the fool’s hands and threw open the doors. “Mortant! Where in blazes are you?”
The antechamber was empty, but as Lorant stomped inside, Mortant crept into view. The old majordomo’s face was scarred from the pox and a half-dozen other diseases, but his eyes were still keen.
Or they normally were. Today they were bloodshot.
“Where is Angela?”
He shook his head. Lorant grabbed him by the arms, holding back from shaking the old fool. “Where is she, Mortant?”
“She—she was out walking the garden paths one night. The sentries saw her run into the forest. Your brother Erdin pursued her, but neither has been seen since.”
“When did this happen?”
“A month ago. We sent couriers, and they told us they left their messages with the royal quartermasters. Did they not—”
“No.” Lorant turned aside, cursing under his breath. King Henrik must have ordered the letters withheld, lest the Butcher of Gelbridge realize he was needed at home. It was just the bastard’s style.
“What about Saul? Where is he?”
Mortant sighed. “He went after her three weeks ago. No trace of him has been seen. Again, we sent missives, but—”
“Damn that bastard!”
“Your… your brother, sir?”
“Henrik.” Lorant closed his eyes as Mortant gasped, forcing himself to breathe, to think. It was hard. He didn’t want to think. He wanted to fight, to kill whoever stood between him and Angela, the people who had killed his brothers. Surely they were dead. If not, they would have returned, either to seek help or with Angela beside them.
He opened his eyes. “Order the grooms to prepare a fresh horse.”
“Milord, if I may—”
“You may not. I will bring her back, Mortant. You cannot persuade me otherwise.”
“You do not even know where to search, milord.”
“I do. Now call the grooms. Immediately.”