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Excerpt: Princes of Air October 25, 2011

Posted by Elizabeth Schechter in excerpt, forthcoming works, Princes of Air, promotions, publishing, Release date, upcoming books.
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This is getting harder — pulling excerpts that DON’T have spoilers in them!

Now, I’ve been told that there is a technical problem, and the book may not drop next week as planned. It will still be sometime in November, though.

So, here is another tease — an excerpt from part two of Princes of Air: The Courtship of the Raven King. In this part, the oldest of the Princes, Diarmuid, has decided that it is time for him to take a wife. But first he has to find her, and he’s taking advantage of a royal wedding in the hopes of meeting the right woman. His brothers have… volunteered him to guard the baggage,  so instead of flying, he’s riding in a chariot. And things don’t go the way they were supposed to (do they ever?)

Part two of Princes of Air. Coming November from Circlet Press.

****

The next day was uneventful, and much more bearable. I spent most of the morning in the air, pacing the chariot and keeping watch that way, until we reached a part of the road overhung with trees. I could no longer see clearly, so I landed and rode with Turlach in the chariot. The previous night seemed to have opened the way for us, and he was much more talkative today, telling me about himself and about the country through which we drove. He was just twenty, he told me, younger than I’d originally thought. He was the son of a charioteer, and he himself had been a charioteer since he’d turned fifteen. My lack of a charioteer of my own fascinated him, until I told him that I didn’t even own a horse, and wouldn’t know what to do with one if I did.

“You’ve really never handled a horse?” he asked, amazed.

“What need do I have for a horse?” I asked in response. That drew a laugh out of him, and he offered to teach me to drive.

“Not here, though,” he amended. “This road needs watching, and we’ll be in the bogs soon. Tomorrow, in the forest. Now, tell me more about this brother of yours?”

“You’re very single-minded,” I accused, laughing. He laughed with me, then graced me with an innocent smile.

“I’m a charioteer. The horses do all the work when we’re not in battle. What else is there worth thinking about?”

“Petran is twice your age,” I pointed out.

He went from innocent to wanton in a moment, leering at me, “Even better. I like older men. They have more experience, and they know so much more. I can’t wait to meet him.” He glanced at me. “Why are you going to Dun-Righ so early? If you don’t mind my asking, that is.”

“I don’t mind. I’m hoping to find a wife.”

“Ah,” he said, nodding sagely. “And you’re hoping that one of those high-born fillies at Dun-Righ will suit you?” He shrugged, “I watch them, even though they don’t interest me. And you’d be better off looking someplace else. Those girls… all they want are a high-born husband to give them children and status and a baile of their own to rule. There isn’t much… substance to them. They’re all silk and paint and not a brain in their pretty heads. Do you understand me?”

I nodded, frowning slightly, “I do. I’ll have to see for myself.”

He glanced at me sidelong, then shrugged, “If you think you must. But I’ll warn you. I’ve seen too many good friends taken to bits by those high-born bawds. Guard your heart and your purse, Diarmuid Ri na Fiach dubh.

His epitaph amused me. It wasn’t often that people actually called me what I am–King of the Ravens. In my own home, I was simply the oldest brother. In the village of Scath, I was the overlord and protector. Outside that circle, I didn’t know what was said about me and mine. I’d never thought to ask, never had anyone I could ask who would be able to answer me truthfully.

“Turlach, what do you know about us? About me and my brothers?” I asked, suddenly curious beyond measure.

“Just what they say,” he answered, shrugging slightly. “I’ve heard a lot of things. People tend to talk around us, you understand? This is the most conversation I’ve had while driving in years.” He frowned, obviously thinking. “I’ve heard that you’re all sons of the Battle Queen. I’ve heard that you’re normal men, and that you just claim to be Her sons, and that you make people believe you through trickery. I’ve heard that you’re all great sorcerers, and that you have the High King in your thrall. It’s the first that’s true, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“I thought so. There’s something about you, something… different. You’re not like anyone I’ve ever met before,” he smiled and met my eyes. “Let me know if you ever decide to get a chariot. I’d be honored to drive for you.”

I smiled back at him, “And does that offer have anything to do with my brother, the harper?”

He managed to look affronted before breaking into laughter, “Perhaps a little. But I like you, too. None of the high-born I’ve driven have ever been so…” he paused for a moment, then shrugged one shoulder, a most raven-like gesture. “…So friendly. Most of them don’t care anything for someone who isn’t as high-born as they are.”

I nodded. I had the same impression of many of the people I’d met in Eogan’s court. “I understand. I like you, too. And I’d be honored to have you drive my chariot. As soon as I get one.”

He laughed again and drew back on the reins, drawing the horses to a stop, “I’ll hold you to that, too. Now, we’re about to enter the bogs. I’ll need all my attention on the road, and you’ll need to keep a watchful eye. There are bog-men in there who prey on travelers, and we’re too tempting a target for them to let us pass. I’m going to drive as fast as is safe, but still…”

“Bog-men?” I looked at the road ahead and stared in shock–there was no road! “Turlach…”

“There are markers on the safe passage,” he answered my unspoken question. “I know what to look for but I need to pay attention. And yes. Bog-men. There are safe ways to get a small party through the bogs, but no way to safely bring through a large enough attack force to clear out the bog-men.” He frowned slightly and looked at me, “I’m going to need to go pretty fast, and it will be a rough trip. Will you be all right?”

I took one of the light spears from a socket built into the side of the chariot and grabbed hold of the chariot rail with my other hand, “I’ll be fine. Go.”

He grinned, then shouted to the horses; the chariot lurched forward and into the bogs.

 * * * *

I am never riding in a chariot ever again.

I still planned to get one, and to bring Turlach into Dun-Morrigan as the charioteer, but I swore in my mother’s name that never again would I ride in one of these torturous contraptions. That was what I repeated to myself as we bounced and jolted through the bogs, following a road that I couldn’t see. I never once saw the markers Turlach mentioned, never knew just how it was that he was navigating without having us end up drowning in the murky waters that I knew lurked under the mossy surface of the bog. I couldn’t see how anyone could ever live in this place–either Turlach was telling tales, having fun at my expense, or these bog-men he mentioned were all mad. But I kept my watch, even though there was nothing to see. The land around us was flat, with few, sparse bushes. There was barely anything that could hide a man, let alone a band of bog-men.

Up ahead, I could see a line of trees growing steadily closer, and knew that we’d be out of the bogs soon, and into the great forest where we’d spend our last night on the road. I scanned the area ahead of us, then glanced behind. As I turned, a sudden movement caught my eye–I turned back and saw nothing but more scrubby bushes waving in the breeze.

Just as I realized that the bushes we had already passed hadn’t been moving, that there was no breeze, the bog exploded. Men surged out of the water, shedding their camouflage and brandishing spears and swords. I hurled my spear and killed the one closest to us, then had to grab for the rail as Turlach snapped the reins and urged the horses into a gallop.

“They won’t follow us into the trees!” he shouted. “We’re almost there!”

I nodded, holding on with one hand and taking another spear with the other, watching the way we had come to make sure that there was no one following. I heard Turlach shout, turned, and had just enough time to see the fallen tree that had been hidden from view in a natural dip in the road, and the armed men there. Before I could do anything, Turlach screamed and fell, a spear in his shoulder. I fumbled for the reins and dragged back on them as I’d seen Turlach do, but we were going too fast. There was no way to stop. The horses leapt, clearing the tree easily.

The chariot was not as lucky.

My last memory was of the chariot hitting the tree, and of being thrown through the air. I’d been trying to save Turlach, and hadn’t shifted to raven form, so I fell, landing hard on my right shoulder. I remembered hearing something crack, then everything was swallowed by pain and darkness, and I knew nothing more.

Another excerpt from Princes… October 17, 2011

Posted by Elizabeth Schechter in excerpt, Princes of Air, promotions, Release date, upcoming books.
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The countdown is ticking away. Here’s another bit to whet your appetites:

Excerpt from Raven Boy, part one of Princes of Air, coming 11/1/11 from Circlet Press.

*****

My name is Niall. I am called Niall Gobha, Niall the smith, and I am the youngest of the Raven Boys, having seen only nineteen summers come and go. Youngest and most foolish, I admit that now. I’m told that there are others like my brothers and me, other children of foreign gods, who also wear their seemings in their skins, and who can take those skins off and walk among men as we do. There are swan girls, I’ve heard, daughters of some river god whose name is unknown to me, who live far to the south and west, and who act as guardians for some treasure hidden beneath the waters. To the north, there are the great gray seals who live in the wild northern sea and only come on land once every seven years to mate with mortal kind, and with whom my oldest brother Diarmuid claims to have spoken in his travels. I wonder now if any of them have fallen as I have done?

As I said, I was a fool. Never did it occur to me that the men who live in the lands that surround Dun-Morrigan, our mountain baile, would learn that there was a secret that we hid in the folds of our raven-feather cloaks. Never did I dream that there could be anyone even half so clever as one of the Morrigan’s sons. Never did I ever think that there would be a mortal so daring, or perhaps so foolish, that they would think they could challenge the child of a goddess and win. And if my brothers, older than I and wise in their years, had ever thought to warn me of such things, then that warning was lost in the reckless arrogance of youth.

Yes, I was arrogant as well as foolish. I admit that, too. I will also admit to being blind, but for that blindness, there was a reason that had its roots in more than my age and my inexperience. Ravens dally where they will, but when they mate, they mate for life, and the woman who would have been my mate had died two years before. It was a harsh thing, to know at seventeen that you were doomed to spend the rest of your life alone, with neither wife nor children to warm your autumn years. The pain of that loss still haunted me, for I’d lived with Sorcha and her father, the smith Cormac, for three years while I’d learned the smith’s craft and the ways of forge magic. Somehow, in all that time, I never realized what Sorcha meant to me, never knew that somehow, some instinct had pinned all of my future happiness on her crooked smile. It was half a year before I understood the meanings behind the ever-increasing erotic dreams that had kept me from sleeping since I’d left Cormac’s forge, before I took wing to return to my red-haired beauty and make her my own. But by then, it was too late; when I landed on the hill overlooking Cormac’s forge, the ashes had already been cold for weeks. To this day, I’ve no memory of how I returned to Dun-Morrigan. All I know is that I spent the next six days hiding in the rafters of my forge, refusing to take my human form, barely eating, sleeping only when I could no longer keep my eyes open. My brothers eventually puzzled out what had happened, and I heard them whispering as they watched me, murmuring “inadvertent mating” and “pining away” in tones that made me want to scream. Somewhere in the middle of the sixth night, I slipped from my feathers and slept as a human in my own bed for the first time in a week; and woke the next morning howling with pain and sorrow, my dreams haunted by the image of Sorcha dying in flames.

There are, I’ve found, benefits to taking my human form over my raven one. Thumbs, for one. And that morning, I discovered another: ravens cannot cry. I wept for what felt like hours in Diarmuid’s arms, until at last there was nothing left inside me, save only an emptiness that I knew would never be filled.

Some, faced with that emptiness, try to fill it with their craft, but working at my forge brought me no peace. There were too many memories there, memories of my lessons with Cormac, and of Sorcha working at my side. She had not a drop of forge-magic, but her skill at fine-work, at delicate filigree and the excruciatingly painstaking art of granulation that I never mastered, was unsurpassed. After a month of seeing ghosts in the shadows, I cleaned my forge and then left it to gather dust, moving to sleep on the floor of the house belonging to my next oldest brother, Maelan. It was he who first brought me down to Scath, the village below Dun-Morrigan, and to the tavern there. There, I learned that mortal men sometimes attempt to fill the void with wine or strong ale, but I also soon found that ravens have no head for drink. I succeeded only in making myself shamefully ill, and in losing my virginity to a sweet girl named Bride, who listened to my ravings, heard the pain beneath them, and tried to offer healing the best way she knew. In her arms, I found something approaching the peace that I craved, and she and I were lovers for months. She taught me with a gentle hand, urged me to tell her about Sorcha, and helped me mourn. When she eventually married the miller’s son, I fired my forge and gifted her and her new husband with every piece of metalwork that they could possibly need for their new home. They named their first son Niall, an honor I wish I deserved.

After Bride came Maeve, a bard as wild and intoxicating as the warrior queen for whom she was named. From her I relearned passion, and I learned again how to laugh. She knew I would never truly love her, and she didn’t care–she lived for the moment, and when she tired of me, she left, leaving me with a kiss, a song that she had written for me, and a lighter heart than I’d had in a very long while. And yet, as the snow faded to a memory and the trees all turned to green, I could feel the old, familiar despair start to creep back into my soul. That was what drove me into the skies, and into the arms of the woman who would prove to be my downfall.

* * * *

It was a spring so new that it was still raw around the edges, and I had taken wing to dance among the clouds, once again trying to flee from my memories. I hoped to find a maiden in the fields, one whom I could entice into my arms for an afternoon with promises of pleasure and a golden trinket or two, and who might find me pleasing enough to want more than an afternoon. In one of the hidden pools that dot the hills, I thought I found what I was seeking: a woman, bathing in the cold, clear water. She was graceful as a willow, with full breasts and long, nut-brown hair that streamed past her waist. Not as beautiful as Sorcha had been, but pretty in her own way. I perched on a branch above the pool and watched her, trying to decide how best to approach her without causing her any alarm. That was when I saw a man creeping through the high grass towards the water’s edge. I saw the sunlight shining off the blade in his hand, and called a low warning to the woman in the water. She looked up at me and laughed, then turned and waded towards the shore, where I could see her clothing waiting. As she reached the water’s edge, the man rose, a cruel look on his scarred face, his knife ready. I forsook discretion and was on the wing before the woman had a chance to scream, changing forms in mid-air and landing in front of her with my sword bared and ready. The would-be rapist gaped at me for a moment, then took to his heels and ran.

At any other time, I’d have followed him, done more than simply frighten him into flight, but I was unwilling to leave the woman alone after her fright. My lust cooled, my thoughts turned instead to protecting an innocent, and I sheathed my sword and turned to face her. Up close, she was prettier than I’d previously thought, with a spray of freckles like gold dust across her nose, and rich, hazel eyes. And, to my surprise and amusement, she was a full three fingers taller than I was.

She stared at me for a moment, then her eyes flickered over my shoulder towards the distant mountain and she sank gracefully to her knees. “My lord, thank you,” she said as she slowly looked up; I was startled to see her gaze lingering just below my belt. When she finally met my eyes again, she smiled. “May I know the name of my rescuer, oh Prince of Air?”

Intrigued, I held my hand out to help her to stand. “Niall. Niall Gobha mac Morrigan. What’s your name? And where do you live?”

Her smile grew wider as she took my hand. As she got to her feet, she ran one hand up my arm in a firm caress that left goose-flesh in its wake. “A smith. I should have guessed that,” she murmured. “You’re so strong. My name is Arlaith inghean Eochada.” She gestured towards the south, “My home is on the other side of that hill. It’s not far.”

I nodded and stepped back, feeling the heat of her touch as sharply as if it was the flames of my own forge, and trying very hard to ignore it. She’d nearly been attacked–the last thing she would want was my attentions. I stooped, picked up her gown, and held it out to her, “Here, dress yourself. I’ll see you safely home.” She took the gown, and I turned away to allow her privacy to dress.

“You were watching me,” she said, and I couldn’t tell if she was amused or angry.

“Yes, I was. I apologize,” I admitted, feeling a flush of embarrassment. I’d never been caught spying on someone before.

To my surprise, she took my arm again, turning me to face her. I could see her gown abandoned on the ground behind her. “You saved my life. How can I offer any complaint?” She moved closer to me, a small smile on her face, a flush growing on her cheeks. “Tell me, my hero. Is there no way I can repay your kindness?” She took another step, pressed her body against mine, wrapped her arms around my neck, and kissed me.

Excerpt: Princes of Air October 10, 2011

Posted by Elizabeth Schechter in excerpt, Princes of Air, promotions, Release date.
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Princes of Air comes out in 11/1/11 (I love that date — of course, I’m slow and I JUST realized I have a binary release date yesterday…) So, I have three weeks to tease you all do promotion. So, I thought I’d start you all off with the prologue. Here’s a taste of what’s to come!

****

In ages past, the gods and goddesses of ancient Eire walked the wide world, dallying with mortals and meddling in their affairs, causing wars and ending them, making alliances and breaking them, playing fidchell with living pieces. Some of these immortals, for amusement or out of boredom, chose to procreate with their especially favored mortals. Thus there came to be in Eire a race of demigods, who lived as part of the world and yet apart from it.

Such it was with the Morrigan, the Great Queen, Goddess of War and of Fertility. Nine Princes of Air there were, nine sons of the Morrigan, each gifted by their mother with the mortal magics of their unknown fathers, and with the power to take on human form or a raven’s wings, as it pleased them. When they took on their human guises, they walked as princes among men, each one a warrior, and each wearing a cloak of raven feathers that clearly marked them as Other. The Raven Boys, the old folks called them, those who remembered the days when the Morrigan brought the first of her sons to live in their mountain home. They remembered, and they warned the foolhardy against testing the mettle of the children of the gods.

Despite the warnings, there were those who never listened…