I’ll be taking part in a virtual ebook fair this weekend, July 26th and 27th. Come join us from the comfort of your favorite chair and discover some great books and writers.
This is the last weekend THE SHAMAN’S CURSE will be on sale for $0.99.
As part of the ebook fair, I’m posting an excerpt from THE SHAMAN’S CURSE here. It’s always tricky choosing an excerpt from a second-world fantasy, finding a place where the reader will feel grounded in a completely different world. So, I’ve decided to go with the beginning.
Vatar reined his horse back behind his friends and turned his head slowly to scan around the endless circle of the plains that merged with the sky at the far horizon. The earth was all golden brown now, the grasses prematurely dried up by the lack of rain. Here and there, the green smudges of trees dotted the savannah, marking the waterholes. The darker blue-green line of the Great Forest marked the eastern horizon. Another line of trees, much closer, marked the course of the river. Everything seemed normal, but that spot between his shoulder blades still itched with a premonition of undefined danger that grew stronger the closer they got to the river.
Ariad slowed down to match Vatar’s pace, allowing the other two boys to go ahead. “Lions?”
Vatar shook his head. That was one danger he could dismiss out of hand. His connection to the Spirit of the Lion told him the nearest lions–in the shade at a distant waterhole–were sleeping off a full meal. “None we need to worry about.”
“What then?” Ariad asked.
“I don’t know. Something . . .” Vatar caught himself before he said too much. It was one of his mother’s oldest admonitions–almost as old as “Don’t touch the fire!” From the very first time he’d tried to describe that infrequent feeling of danger, she’d warned him not to mention it to anyone but her and Pa. Even his little sister Kiara didn’t know about it.
Vatar was already different enough–dark-haired and strongly-built among the tall, lanky, fair Dardani. Though she was Dardani now, his mother had come originally from a far-off city on the sea coast. The Dardani would accept his hair color and height, but not anything that even hinted at forbidden magic. Other than a few old stories, Vatar had no idea why his people had such deep-seated superstitious fear of magic, but he knew full well that it was one of the few things they’d never forgive.
Vatar didn’t think the itch between his shoulder blades was magic, any more than his ability to sense lions. That was his connection to his clan’s totem spirit–just like Ariad could sense eagles. But Mother’s caution was second nature by now. He forced one corner of his mouth up in a half-smile. “Maybe I’ve just heard one too many of Pa’s stories about Themyri ambushes.”
Ariad barked a laugh. “Haven’t we all? To hear our fathers tell it, the river is almost as dangerous as the Great Forest.” He shuddered a little at the reference to the one place all plains-dwelling Dardani feared most and made a surreptitious sign against magic and evil spirits. Being Eagle Clan, Ariad’s hand curled in an imitation of an eagle’s talons.
Up ahead, Torkaz turned in his saddle. “Are you two coming or not?”
Ariad waved his hand and kicked his horse into a canter. Vatar shrugged and followed.
Torkaz wiped sweat from his forehead. “It’s too hot out here. Everything worth hunting is lying up in the shade somewhere.” He slipped his bow back into the fringed sheath on his saddle and grinned. “Why not cut our losses and cool off in the river?”
Ariad’s gaze flicked to Vatar. “We’re not supposed to–”
Predictably, Torkaz treated this simple statement as a challenge, standing up in is stirrups to make himself taller. “You have a better way to cool off?”
Ariad looked around the empty plains. “No.”
“Besides,” Torkaz went on, “the tribe won’t be staying here much longer. The rains are bound to come soon. Then we’ll go back to the Zeda waterhole, probably before midsummer. How often do the Dardani come all the way to the river?” His eyes glowed with excitement. “And next time, even if it’s as soon as next year, we’ll all have passed our manhood test and be too grown up to go wade in the river. This may be our last chance.”
Daron shouted, “Race!” and took off at a gallop. Torkaz and Vatar whooped and jeered at each other as they urged their horses to speed in Daron’s wake. Ariad flailed his reins to speed his horse as he chased after the other three boys.
It wasn’t long before Vatar stood beside his friends on the bank looking down at the river. Below where he stood was a broad boulder-strewn shelf. A few puddles of water lay scattered between the rocks, cut off from the main current by the drought.
Torkaz had already taken hold of the exposed root of one of the trees to swing himself down. Once he stood on the shelf, Torkaz’s head was level with Vatar’s boots.
“Come on!” Torkaz said. “No point in just standing up there.”
Daron and Ariad paused to scan the open country on the far side of the river. That was Themyri territory and this anemic river wasn’t much of a barrier against them. But the only thing moving on that side of the river was a herd of wild horses. Vatar turned to look upriver and twitched his shoulders against the prickle between his shoulder blades. Whatever was wrong was in that direction, but he still couldn’t see, hear, or smell anything out of the ordinary.
Daron gestured to the mountains in the distance, partly obscured by dark, low-hanging clouds. “Look at those clouds. Why can’t that rain be falling out on the plains, where it could do some good?”
Ariad looked down. “With all that rain upstream, you’d think there’d be more water in the river, wouldn’t you?”
Below, Torkaz had already stripped off his boots and tunic and was splashing in the cool water with his trousers rolled up to his knees. Daron shrugged and grasped the root to swing down to the shelf. With a peal of laughter, Ariad followed him.
Vatar paused, looking from the distant mountains to the river below. A chill ran down his spine in spite of the hot summer sun. This is a very bad idea. With his hand at his side, Vatar made the sign of the lion, thumb and forefinger mimicking the open mouth of a roaring lion. “Maybe this isn’t a good idea, after all. Let’s go back.”
Torkaz squinted up at him. “What are you scared of? It’s just a little water. It’s not even all that deep.”