After my big fat emotional post on Monday and your fantastic response, I decided you blog readers deserve a reward. Since I'm running low on chocolate brownies and sparkly puppies, I thought I'd provide an All New, exclusive, never-been-seen-before snippet of Shadows on the Moon. Follow the cut to read it.
I hope you enjoy this teaser! Let me know your thoughts, everyone.
One of the household men walked beside me, not touching, but ready to catch me if I looked likely to tip off either edge of the narrow boarding plank.
“It is an incredible coincidence that they're taking this ship too,” Terayama-san was speaking to my mother up ahead, his voice low and quick. “I am told they come from a country on the continent, and that their Ruler has already been a guest at the Moon Prince's Palace. There is to be a trade agreement – they have incredible amounts of gold, but want timber and livestock from us. If I can make their acquaintance before the others at court it will be a tremendous opportunity, not just in terms of money but also influence...”
So that was why he was excited. Was it really coincidence? I wondered, as I let Terayama-san's voice fade out. Or was it, in fact, the true reason why we were taking the Row Maru instead of a proper passenger ship? I had read in one of father's books that a man cannot be faulted for ambition – and father had always said that his friend had enough for both of them.
I wobbled a little as one of my sandals caught in a rough place in the gangplank, and grabbed at the servant to keep my balance. Suddenly that coppery foam below the plank seemed a very long way away. I teetered for a moment, then drew in a breath of relief as I steadied.
Only then did I notice the household man was not looking at me. In fact, although I was clutching his shoulder hard enough to bruise, he hadn't lifted a hand to help.
His attention was riveted above me – over the heads of my mother and Terayama-san, who had both frozen too. The shortest of the group, I had the worst view of what they were all staring at. It was a group of men, walking slowly past the boarding area.
I could only see them from the shoulders upwards, but that was interesting enough. Their skin was dark. Not dirty dark, or tanned dark, but the deep brown colour of a piece of fine cherrywood. Their facial bones were shaped differently too, with prominent cheek and jawbones and full lips.
Their hair was long and black, like everyone I knew, but not smooth. It was fluffy – no – fuzzy, like lambswool, and gathered into sort-of-ropes that fell down from knots or braids at the back of their heads. Golden ornaments, bells, charms and beads clinked and tinkled in those ropes of hair as they moved past.
The most interesting thing about the men – to me, anyway – was the scars. Each of them had a pattern of scars on the skin of their face. On the closest ones I could just make out dots and whirls and long, straight lines that scored their foreheads and cheeks, and glowed dark blue against their warm brown skin.
These must be Terayama-san's rich foreigners; and they really were foreign, the strangest people I had ever seen. The men did not glance down at us. Masterly self-control, since they must have felt our astonished stares.
Only one of them broke rank and turned his head as he passed. He was the youngest, and the smallest. I could only just see him over mother's shoulder. The marks on his cheeks were like storm clouds.
His eyes flicked over us all with what seemed like impersonal interest; when his gaze met mine, his expression changed. I could not have named any one emotion that crossed his strange, beautiful face, only that it was intense – a sort of recognition perhaps. I felt I ought to respond, but did not know how. Then a tiny smile twitched at one corner of his mouth and I was unable to contain the answering smile that crossed my lips.
One of the other men looked back and said something in a language I did not understand. The boy, for he was no more than a boy, turned his head abruptly and hurried after the others.
I drew in a deep, slow breath. That was...odd.
The moment the men were out of sight, Terayama-san began talking to mother again, his voice lower now. He glanced back at me for a moment, eyes calculating, as if he had noticed that strange look that passed between me and the boy foreigner, but did not know what to make of it.
The household man came back to himself with a start, and realised that I was hanging onto him for dear life. He looked mortified. He caught my arm and led me the rest of the way onto the ship with such tender attention and such deep protestations of regret for his inattention that I was worried he might cry. I turned my sweetest and most forgiving smile on him, and wished him far, far away. I wanted to think about what I had seen. I wanted to remember those odd men, and the boy's knowing smile.
They wear their scars on their faces. Right there on their faces. Where everyone can see...