Greetings all, and welcome back to Lands Uncharted. I hope you are all doing well, and that you’re mastering your new normal with pizazz in whatever way that looks like for you.
I’m super thrilled because I get to share another story snippet with you. Today, it’s an excerpt directly from my upcoming release, Guardian Prince, which is the sequel to The Healer’s Rune. I’m afraid I don’t have a release date yet, but as soon as I get one from my publisher, I’ll be sure to let you know. If the excerpt below interests you, the best way to learn about the release date is to join my email list via the signup form at Lauricia-Matuska.com.
That said, here’s the excerpt. It’s a snippet from chapter one, where Sabine first rejoins the Aethel who rescued her at the end of book one. I hope you enjoy!
“Human,” a deep voice called from nearby.
Sabine glanced up to see Koen standing a few feet away, his bright, leaf-red hair contrasting sharply with the deep black feathers of the raven perched on his shoulder. She fixated on the sight of the raven's talons sinking into the shoulder of the Dryht’s leather jerkin. Recalling the weight of the bird when he had landed on her lap, and the sharpness of his talons against her leg when he had sprung off, Sabine reasoned the Dryht must be stronger than his remarkably tall, lean frame suggested.
The raven turned his head to one side, regarding Sabine and her dog with a large, bright blue eye. Then, turning his head to the other side as if for a better look, he studied them with his bright green eye. A fraction of a moment later he shrieked a raucous call and fluffed his feathers. Instinctively, Sabine clutched a fist-full of Bree's fur, to keep the dog from jumping at the bird, but Bree did not even tense. Amazed, Sabine watched the dog and the bird politely disregard each other, as if they were used to spending great amounts of time together.
“The others are waiting for you,” Koen prompted politely, but with a slight air of command. “The Rüddan could be upon us at any moment. Follow me.”
Sabine nodded and did as the Dryht requested, but unease stirred within her. She had thought she would be safe after she fled from Khapor. “The portal is still under attack, then? Or are they coming at us from another direction?”
Koen stopped and turned back to her, his eyebrows arched. “We are half a world away from your village, Human. The portal is the only way they can reach us now.”
Sabine frowned. Half a world away from Khapor? She did not understand how that could be, but she did not want to appear foolish in front of this Dryht, either.
“Portals are not like normal doors,” Koen explained, as if reading her expression. “With any doorway, the distance from one side to the other is a mere step. For portals, however, the distance is much greater. When you passed through our gateway last night, you traveled from your tiny island village to the largest continental forest in Ceryn Roh.”
“But don't the Rüddan know where we are?”
Koen shook his head. “Before the War of New Dawn, all portals were originally created and maintained by the Dryht. Although the other races used them, only mine understood them. They were destroyed by the Rüddan in the War, but we have spent the past three hundred years restoring them. Even if the Rüddan knew how they work, they have no idea where any given portal leads. As far as they know, we could be anywhere in the world.”
Sabine nodded. “So the only way to get to us is to cross over from Khapor.”
“Exactly,” Koen said. Turning, he began once again to lead her to the others. “And while no portal has ever fallen when it was attacked, that doesn't mean it can't, so no more delays.”
Sabine fell into step beside the Dryht, following closely as he guided her through a forest that appeared equally maintained and unkempt. The trees seemed to grow in large clusters: a variety of cedar, pine, and oak gathered here, a knot of willow and elm over there. Creepers, ivies, and shrubs twined around and through each thicket. The spaces between them, while not completely empty of bushes or trees, had a sense of being designated walkways.
Koen led her to one of these stands a short distance away from where she had slept, a large copse of rowan, ash, birch, and willow. Pausing just outside the cluster, he pushed aside a thick curtain of vines to reveal a narrow entrance, which he gestured her to pass through.
She did, realizing too late that Bree had followed her in. She would have shooed the dog back outside, but Koen was right behind her, his tall frame filling the doorway. He did not seem to notice the dog, and the raven still sat on his shoulder, so Sabine let it go, hoping nothing would come of it.
Inside, the stand of trees looked like a large room. As with the other buildings she had been in since last night, the trees grew closely together, their varying shapes and sizes tiling among, against, and over each other and the surrounding foliage to form walls while their branches intertwined to weave a roof. Muted, dappled sunlight filtered through the leaves overhead, illuminating a long, narrow table that filled the center of the room where a group of men and women appeared to be conferencing over breakfast. Much to Sabine's surprise, she recognized most of them.
Aodhan, the Aethel prince she had rescued and nursed back to health, sat at the head of the table, flanked on his left by Gaelan and his right by an Aethel man she had never met before, but who appeared vaguely familiar. Aodhan’s sister, the Lady Diera, sat across from him at the other end of the long table. Amala, her lady-in-waiting, sat to Diera’s right, attending her blind mistress. Aodhan’s cousin Taylion, whom Sabine knew as Tayte, sat near the center of the table on one side. The chairs across from him and to his right were empty.
Koen directed Sabine to the spot beside Tayte, for which she was glad. Of everyone seated at the table, he was the person she had known the longest and the best. He was the reason she was no longer enslaved to the Rüddan.
The conversation stopped abruptly as she approached, giving her the impression that whatever they had been discussing somehow involved her. Their silent stares unnerved her, causing her stomach to clench. Squaring her shoulders, she kept her head up and met each gaze and glimpse as levelly as she could. They wanted her here, she told herself. They had attempted to rescue her not once but twice. Still, the reminder did nothing to ease the sense of being weighed and judged.
Tayte nodded to her, catching and holding her attention. The shape-shifter wore his Aethel form rather than his Human appearance, his smile warm and gracious. The knot in her stomach eased a bit.
“Good morning, Sabine,” he said expansively. His voice filled the silent room, reminding her of the tone her mother used when indirectly commanding her and her sister to be polite in front of the company. As he spoke, he rose to pull her chair out for her. “Welcome to our table. Please, join us.”
Sabine gasped softly, concerned that her friend should put so much weight on the leg he had broken during last night's escape. She glanced at his shin, then looked again, startled to see no cast. Tayte followed her gaze.
“It is healed, my friend,” he said gently as he motioned her to sit, then inclined his head toward the Aethel seated beside him and to Aodhan's right. “Kyar saw to it last night.”
Stunned, Sabine nodded in greeting, finally recognizing Kyar as the mysterious stranger who had tended Tayte's unconscious form the night before.
Kyar regarded her silently, his dark eyes so cold and piercing that she could not look at them for very long. Unsure what else to do, she adjusted her cloak slightly to allow herself to sit and accepted the chair Tayte had offered.
Koen joined the table, as well, his raven flying to a nearby tree limb. He took the seat across from Tayte and began filling his plate with food from the dishes laid out over the table. “Help yourself,” he said, gesturing in Sabine’s direction with his plate. “We do not have the time to tarry.”