Heeellooo, Dear Readers! Today I bring you a teensy snippet of the upcoming Daughter of the Flames companion novel FrostFire, which is coming out from Walker Books in July of this year. Since the manuscript is in edits now, there's less chance than usual of this scene being significantly cut or changed, but you never know, so bear that in mind.
Since this is probably the last sample I'll be able to post for some time (if at all), it seemed only fitting to head back to the beginning of the book. Or...nearly the beginning. There's a preface, but that would give away far too much, my pretties (mwaa haa haa!). So here's the start of the first chapter proper. Click the cut for more:
My mouth tasted of dust and iron.
The cool white mists that rolled down the mountain slopes in the early morning had burned away, and the sun was directly overhead. Now and again a sudden, blinding flash of light would pierce the silvery blue leaf canopy, dazzling me. I had learned to walk with eyelids half closed.
My hips and feet ached like a half healed bruise. Sweat itched at the small of my back, in the bends of my knees and elbows. Waving strands of dark hair worked free of the braid pinned up around my head, and clung damply to my skin, no matter how often I tried to brush them back.
I’d been walking a long time.
I was blowing hair out of my face again when the dry earth gave way beneath my left boot. I lurched sideways and snatched at the waxy tree roots thrusting out of the hillside, dragging myself away from the edge. The path was dangerously narrow and winding. If I tumbled off, it was a very long fall down the steep layers of terraces into the river I could hear thundering below. I’d likely never get the chance to climb back up again.
I regained my footing, then sighed tiredly, letting go of the roots to shake red soil off my hands. The first few times the path had betrayed me my heart had pounded and my fingers had shaken. But I was too weary to get excited about these brushes with death anymore.
The bush ahead of me rustled.
Something was shifting in the foliage. Something big.
A bandit? No. The bush wasn’t big enough.
Animal then. Leopard?
I couldn’t outrun a leopard.
My feet felt as if they had rooted into the crumbling earth. I swallowed hard, and slowly, slowly, slowly reached back for the handle of my father’s axe, which was secured across the top of my pack.
A massive blue pheasant burst out of the bush. The fan shaped copper tail nearly grazed my face as it flew up, filling the air with a frantic beating of wings that seemed to mock my speeding heartbeat. As the bird disappeared into the trees my hand fell limply from the axe. Just a bird. Just a bird.
I squeezed my eyes shut, taking deep, careful breaths as the world swam around me. Too weary to be excited by brushes with death? Oh, father – the lies I tell.
My stomach rumbled loudly, and I let out a weak laugh. I scrubbed my face roughly with both dusty hands, then turned off the path and clambered up the slope until I found a thick clump of glossy purple shrubs that would hide me from anyone passing below. I sank down in the shelter of the leaves and shrugged off the leather pack. My shoulders crunched with the movement. I groaned, stretching out aching legs and rotating my feet in their heavy boots.
From my new vantage point above the path, I could see the bright glint of water through the trees. The River Mesgao. Not far to go now. I just had to follow the river, and it would take me where I needed to go. My blood surged with hope and longing – and fear.
I had come such a very long way.