Dragonwitch A New Tale Is Added to this Christy Award-Winning Fantasy Saga! Submissive to her father's will, Lady Leta of Aiven travels far to meet a prospective husband she neither knows nor loves--Lord Alistair, future king of the North Country. But within the walls of Gaheris Castle, all is not right. Vicious night terrors plague Lord Alistair to the brink of insanity. Whispers rise from the family crypt. The reclusive castle Chronicler, Leta's tutor and friend, possesses a secret so dangerous it could cost his life and topple the North Country into civil war. And far away in a hidden kingdom, a fire burns atop the Temple of the Sacred Flame. Acolytes and priestesses serve their goddess to the limits of their lives and deaths. No one is safe while the Dragonwitch searches for the sword that slew her twice...and for the one person who can wield it.
Sneak Peek from
By: Anne Elisabeth Stengl
The cat padded confidently, tail high and ears perked, down a certain path in the Wood Between, which grew in the strange, predominantly timeless stretch of existence separating the Far World from the Near. It wasn't really a Wood, or not entirely a Wood. Indeed, the more the cat trod the various highways and byways beneath the trees' long shadows, the more he suspected the Wood was itself a living consciousness, possibly many living consciousnesses all bundled into one. Some of those consciousnesses were pleasant enough sorts. More were cheeky devils, and the rest downright wicked.
The Wood would twist a person up and turn him round and flip him inside out if given half a chance. This the cat knew for certain.
But as long as one walked a path—a known, safe path belonging to a known, safe master—there was little the Wood could do to interfere.
So the cat remained firmly upon his particular path, scarcely looking to the right or the left. The Wood was always shifting around him in any case, and he did not expect to see familiar landmarks, or at least not in familiar places. That boulder shaped like a rabbit's head, for instance, had been a good mile or two back up the way when he'd been here last. And that tree which last time had been split right down the middle as though by a bolt of lightning was mostly mended now, the trunk knitting itself back together with threads of green ivy and pins of stout branches.
No, landmarks were of little use to the cat. He was interested only in the gates.
He approached one of these now. To any mortal eye, it would look like nothing more than a thick cluster of bamboo standing incongruously in the middle of a fir grove. The firs were newcomers; the bamboo, however, remained ever in place.
The cat sniffed at it, his pink nose twitching delicately. Then he put out a paw and touched one of the slender green stalks. It swayed under that slight pressure but sprang firmly back into place when the cat removed his paw.
"Good," said the cat. "Still locked."
Just as he'd expected it to be.
He continued on his way.
There were several hundred such gates to be checked on this patrol through the Wood Between; soft places, so to speak, in the fabric of reality. Places where those of the Far World could all too easily slip into the Near, wreaking havoc on delightful mortal disbelief in Faerie tales and magic. Thus they must be locked. And those locks must be carefully guarded. So the cat patrolled this stretch of the Wood, following the path of his liege lord and checking all the gates.
Sometimes it still surprised him.
For one thing, he'd never much cared for mortals and their problems. Immortal himself, he had spent countless ages of cheerful existence never once considering those who lived beyond the Between in the time-bound realm.
And yet here he was. A knight. A defender of the weak, as it were. A minister of truth, advocate of justice, and who knew what other nonsense no self-respecting cat ever wanted to be!
The cat shook his whiskers as he continued his trek. The path opened up before him with each step, and the trees and ferns and underbrush drew back to make way. He tested another gate and another after that. All locked. All safe.
The fact was, he admitted to himself, he could no longer claim to be entirely indifferent to mortals.
"Dragons blast it," he muttered. "I warned you, didn't I, Eanrin? Get involved, and you'll find yourself caring. Then there's no end to the mischief!" He flattened his ears at this thought. He could blame no one but himself for his present circumstances, however. He had chosen this lot. Or he thought he had. Often he felt a little unclear on that score.
Often he felt that knighthood had been chosen for him against all his best efforts.
A certain smell tugged at the cat's nose. Or rather, not a smell, but an unknown sensation whispering to an unknown sense, earnest and quiet and dangerous.
At first the cat ignored it. But within a few more paces, it had strengthened until his nose twitched and his tail flicked and his whole cattish being could no longer deny what he was sensing. He could only hope he was mistaken.
"But when has that ever happened?" he asked himself, with typical feline shortness of memory.
He turned and, stepping carefully, pursued a small path opening itself to him off his regular track. Very soon he found what he'd expected.
"Light of Lumé," he growled then sighed heavily. "Not another one."
Before him lay a circle of white stones shining out brightly against a bed of dark moss. Even a mortal might have recognized it for a Faerie Circle.
The cat recognized a new gate beginning to open.
From this position, he could not tell exactly where it opened to. It could be anywhere in the Near World. It wasn't completely formed yet, he knew that much for certain. And, if precautions were taken, it might never fully form.
One way or another, it would have to be added to his regular patrol. An unguarded gate was a dangerous gate.
"Where do you lead, I wonder?" the cat mused, sniffing each of the circling stones in turn. Then he hissed and drew back sharply, his nose filled with the aroma of caorann berries. They littered the ground around the Faerie circle, dozens of them, squashed and stamped flat among the stones so that the moss was stained with their juices. No caorann trees grew in this vicinity that the cat could recall. Which meant someone had carried the berries here purposefully.
Caorann trees were known for one specific quality: their ability to unravel enchantments.
The perfume of the berries was very light, but once it entered the nostrils, it didn't easily let go. The cat sat for a while grooming his face as though he could somehow push the smell out of his nose with one white paw. As he groomed, he thought.
Someone had been working enchantments here. Someone whose smell was now hidden by the caorann, all traces of enchantment dispersed. Everyone knew that knights of Farthestshore patrolled this particular stretch of the Wood, and someone wanted to disguise nefarious doings.
The cat finished grooming and sat quite still, his paws placed delicately before him, his plume of a tail sweeping gently back and forth and collecting squashed berry hulls. His eyes were mostly closed so that one might assume he dozed, but the thin membrane of his third eyelid remained open as he studied the setting from behind long, cattish lashes.
He came to a sudden decision and stood. Trotting back to his regular path, he hurried on to the closest gate. This appeared to mortal eyes like a pair of young trees with unusually large and twisted roots twining together in vegetable affection.
With a slight shiver of his whiskers, the cat stepped between these two trees and into another world.
Random. That’s the first word that comes to mind when I consider the research I’ve done for my fantasy novels. It’s all tremendously random. Because the world is my own, there’s only so much historical research I can do to help. No dates, kings, queens, or battles. But specific elements of our history can be quite helpful! Such as castles, for instance: Where were they built? For that matter, why? What were common features of European castles as opposed to Asian castles? Were there castles or castle equivalents in South America?
These are all questions I have asked while designing Gaheris House, which features prominently in my new novel, Dragonwitch. My husband and I spent a good deal of time researching castles of all sorts, then making sketches of Gaheris, plotting out its history. These details all made for a more authentic feel as I wrote about Gaheris and the folks living within its walls. I felt as though I wrote about a place I had seen for myself.
I have also spent time researching hierarchies of power in various cultures. For instance, what did the political structure of 1066 Saxon England look like as opposed to Song Dynasty China of the same time period? This sort of research is more hit-and-miss for me, though. I may or may not be able to use it. But I often find that reading books and articles on such things has inspired exciting notions as I create the political structures and hierarchies of my own world. For my current work-in-progress, I’ve found myself having to stop and research very random things along the way, including: gold-leaf poisoning, mules, falconry, gunpowder (did you know it was originally used for medicinal purposes???), ancient temples, carrier pigeons, Pekingese dogs, and more! And, of course, one of the major sources of good research for a fantasy novel is mythology and fairy tale. A writer of fairy tales like me needs to have a solid grounding in the classics. For my upcoming spring release, Shadow Hand, I spent several weeks poring over Frazer's Golden Bough, studying the mythological beliefs and practices of various cultures around the world. I also kept on hand copies of fantastical poems by Percy Shelley, Robert Browning, and others of the romantic era. I nearly memorized Tam Lin, so often did I reference it as I wrote.
But again, all of this is very random. If I could see some solid rhyme or reason to it, I might be able to map out a clear philosophy of fantasy research. But each book is a different monster to fight, and the weapons with which you fight a dragon are not the same as those with which you fight Medusa. I will say that my favorite research was for my debut novel, Heartless. That novel includes several fencing scenes, and I decided to take fencing lessons to make certain I had at least a clue what I was writing about.
And at the fencing club, I happened to meet this ever-so-handsome man, a talented fencer with a warm, bright smile. We fought each other in a tournament, fell in love, and were married within seven months!
So yes, research. It’s a good thing . . . .
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