Here we are, the day before the official release day and boy am I getting excited! Anyone up for another sneak peek? How about the whole first chapter? Yes? then read on!
“I forbid you traveling right now. It’s not safe.”
Sorsha tapped her foot angrily as she stared her brother down, or attempted to, anyway. It was very hard to do when the other party wouldn’t meet your gaze. Their mother used to say that he was the only elf in existence who wouldn’t back down from Sorsha, mainly because he was the only elf in existence who was more bullheaded than Sorsha.
“I will have your word that I will not hear stories of my unmated sister wandering around Bhaithcreig while I’m gone,” he tossed back over his shoulder as he stuffed the last bit of clothing into a rucksack and cinched the ties down. When she didn’t answer, he turned and pinned her with a hard look. “Your word or I will have you confined to the keep.”
“You have it, milord,” she muttered snidely.
That hadn’t been an idle threat, she knew. He had once locked her in the root cellar. That had been the day their clan was attacked by rivals, decimating it. All but two of the clan’s trackers, the highest caste of forest elves, were gone—her and Seraiah. Their father had only been cousin to the old chieftain but they were the clan leaders now because there was no one else. Or Seraiah was, anyway. She was nothing more than the chieftain’s unmated sister.
He didn’t want stories of his unmated sister running amok, did he? She would just have to go as someone else, then. There was no way she was going to sit around doing embroidery like a proper lady, not with her only brother in danger. She had never been to a black elf city before but a city was a city. Surely there would be throngs of nobles and wealthy merchants. Where wealthy and powerful people congregated, an army of servants could also be found to tend to their every need. One more lady’s maid would hardly be noticed.
Sorsha left Seraiah to his preparations and made her way to the pantry to recruit some assistance. A few cosmetic adjustments and she could pull off her chosen role as a servant easily. She would slip into Bhaithcreig and be back before he noticed she’d ever left. Not being male, Sorsha was not burdened with a need to respect Seraiah’s death wish of handling things by himself.
“You promised not to go to Bhaithcreig,” Gellie said flatly before Sorsha could speak. The ancient housekeeper was counting sacks of spices, a chore that required concentration and yet she had managed to overhear everything, like usual. Sorsha shook her head in amazed disgust. Gellie had been part housekeeper and part mother to Sorsha since her own mother had died. Sorsha loved the old doe but sometimes wished Gellie were not so very good at knowing everything that went on in the keep.
“I gave my word that stories of the chieftain’s sister would not get back to Seraiah,” Sorsha replied airily, pushing past Gellie’s comment as she pushed her way into the storage room. “I did not say a servant would not go in her stead. Now cut my hair, please.”
“No. Send an actual servant if you must, but do not go yourself.”
“Who could I send?” Sorsha shot back. “The clan is not exactly burgeoning with well-traveled servants. I know what I want accomplished so it makes more sense for me to go.”
“Except that your brother was correct. It is not safe for you to travel outside the clan’s holding right now. The nobles are uneasy and grasping for power. There are those who would use you to force Seraiah to their side.”
“I am sorry, poppet,” Gellie said with a sigh. “I will not aid you in this rebellion of yours.”
“It is not ‘rebellion,’ Gellie. Seraiah needs my help. Fine,” Sorsha said after a long pause. “I’ll go ask Maryd to cut my hair.”
“Maryd will butcher it,” Gellie promptly spat, proving that she hadn’t been ignoring Sorsha after all.
“I know, Gellie. That is why I came to you first. But it needs done, so if you won’t do it I will have to go find someone who will,” Sorsha said as she turned to leave. She was rewarded with a long-suffering sigh from the elder doe.
“Get back here,” Gellie muttered. “I’ll cut it, but I don’t like it.”
Making a determined effort not to look pleased by Gellie’s capitulation, Sorsha settled herself onto the stool Gellie pointed out. She even sat nice and still while Gellie brushed out her long coal-black locks. She wouldn’t put it past the cranky old housekeeper to cut only half then go tattle. Better to sit meekly and get a nice haircut than end up wearing her intention to disobey with a half-shorn head.
“I don’t suppose you are going to tell me why it’s so important for you to do this,” Gellie huffed as she tied off the braid at both the top and bottom so it wouldn’t unravel as it was cut.
“You know why I need to go,” Sorsha replied, trying to sound confident rather than excited, or at least less nervous than excited. This was the kind of grand adventure she had always wanted to have. Most well-born does dreamed of being swept off their feet by a dashing young lord and living a pampered life as the mistress of his grand home. Sorsha dreamed of getting to know the world outside the clan’s holdings, to lead hunts like other trackers—to be a person rather than a pretty bauble for some lord to wear on his arm.
“Humor me and tell me anyway,” Gellie admonished as she sawed through Sorsha’s thick braid with dressmaker’s sheers. “If I’m going to make the highest ranking doe of the clan look like the lowest, you will tell me what you hope to accomplish with this task you’ve given yourself.”
“I plan to find a hunt lord and petition him to come to Seraiah’s aide,” Sorsha said distractedly, trying not to cringe as Gellie trimmed her hair shorter and shorter. Long hair was the mark of a lady and hers had been long enough to brush the back of her thighs. Cutting her hair was necessary if she wanted to pass as a lowborn servant, though, and it would eventually grow back. And Gellie really did know why she was doing this—she and Seraiah had been arguing loudly about it for days.
Her beloved brother had gotten into a bad spot with a pack of human-wolf shape shifters on another realm. Everyone knew that he would not be leaving the clan’s holdings if he had a way to keep the shifter pack from coming after him. They may not like the fact their chieftain was willing to go off and die alone to keep his personal enemies away from the clan, but none were willing to do anything about it—no one but Sorsha. It was high time Seraiah let her take her rightful place and help lead the clan. If all went well, this may be the only time she had to sneak around to do it.
“I know that much,” Gellie replied harshly, interrupting Sorsha’s self-righteous mental grumbling. “What I don’t know is why you think a hunt lord will help.” Sorsha turned and looked at the old doe incredulously.
“They can control all shifters, not just elfin ones,” she said dismissively. “A hunt lord could work out an arrangement between Seraiah and the pack, something that won’t end with Seraiah’s death.”
“But why would one bother?” Gellie stressed.
That pulled Sorsha up short. That was exactly what she and Seraiah had been fighting about. Hunt lords hunted criminals and enemies of the realm. They likely would not care if they could help Seraiah since he’d gotten into trouble while he was in the service of a criminal. Without a good reason to help him, they wouldn’t. Seraiah didn’t see the point in asking. Sorsha didn’t want to give up until every avenue had been pursued.
“I don’t know,” Sorsha admitted finally. “But that’s the best shot we have. It’s certainly better than Seraiah running off to who knows where to die gallantly alone.”
“Aye,” Gellie agreed, also sounding dejected now. “And with his death, you will become chieftain.”
“And an unmated female chieftain will guarantee our clan will become a pawn to the forest king for generations or worse,” Sorsha agreed. The king would not take the clan from her. He would, however, claim the clan indigent and take away their lands and titles if she didn’t agree to marry a buck of his choosing. A small understrength clan with no land would be all but enslaved. “Either I accept the mate the king will force on us or we become slaves in the king’s household. Or can I find a hunt lord and convince him to save my brother.”
Other highborn ladies may dream of being swept off their feet, but there would be no romantic courtship for Sorsha. She was determined that she would have a grand adventure, though!
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