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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.

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