I’m spending January deep in revisions for my next Beyond the Tales novel, The Lioness and the Spellspinners. You can read the whole thing (if all goes well) in the fall, but in the meantime I thought I’d share an excerpt. The Lioness of the title is Karina, who’s on the run and currently stuck on a very small island. She’s gone into town with Forrest, a local, looking for a ship…
For such a small town, it seemed to take a long time to get through, but at last they reached The Wool and Spindle. It was the second largest building in town, after the royalty’s house. Two stories, a thickly thatched roof and a wooden sign hanging above the door. Karina glanced up at the sign as they passed under it. It showed, predictably, a sheep and a spinning wheel.
Inside, she let out a relieved breath to find herself on more familiar footing. Taverns are taverns the world over. It was a little cleaner and more light shone than in most of the places she frequented back home, but the scattering of tables, big fireplace, and long counter at the back were familiar enough. And it was blessedly empty, apparently too early in the day for hard-working, respectable townsfolk to be at the tavern. Which meant there was no one to stare.
She had started to relax when a girl came into the room, from a doorway probably leading to the kitchen. The girl’s face broke into a broad smile as soon as she caught sight of her visitors. “Oh, Forrest!” she trilled. “You haven’t been in to visit in ages!”
Karina sighed inwardly. He really did know everyone. And she wouldn’t be able to avoid an introduction here.
Forrest ducked his head slightly, rubbing the back of his neck. “I was just in last week.”
“Well, it feels like forever,” the girl insisted, hands on her hips. “I was beginning to think you forgot the way to town.”
“It’s not like it’s a complicated route,” Karina said unthinkingly, and could have kicked herself the moment the words were out. The first person who hadn’t shown any interest in her, and she had to draw attention. What had made her do that? Sure, it was a stupid thing for the girl to say, but she could have let it go by.
The girl turned her head to face Karina, and though the smile stayed fixed on her face, it went brittle around the edges. “And who’s your friend, Forrest?”
“This is Karina, she’s…visiting. Karina, this is Dahlia. Her father owns The Wool and Spindle.”
Of course she was named after a flower. She was a tall, willowy blond wearing a lavender dress that showed off her figure and had just the right number of flounces in the skirt. Karina might not care much about fashion, but she could tell when someone had found a dress that worked for her. She had already been able to tell that her own clothes were completely not in the local style, but the contrast between that lavender dress and her own vest and trousers could hardly be more dramatic. And…yes, she could see the tips of lavender slippers peeping out from under the skirt. Figured.
“So lovely to meet you,” Dahlia said, voice ever so sweet. Her smile definitely didn’t reach her eyes anymore. “Any friend of Forrest’s, you know.”
“How very kind of you to welcome me to your lovely establishment,” Karina replied, and smiled with too many teeth. Two could play this game.
“And will you be visiting long?” Dahlia asked.
Would Dahlia’s smile crack if she said she was staying permanently? Tempting, but hardly practical. “No, I’m afraid not. In fact, I’m here to find out about any ships leaving the island.”
“Oh, what a pity! It would have been lovely to get to know you.”
“I’m sure we would have had so much in common,” Karina returned, and watched as Dahlia’s eyes flickered. They likely had nothing at all in common, but they did at least understand each other.
“So…” Forrest said, looking faintly puzzled as though he wasn’t quite sure about what had just been said, “are there any ships setting out in the next day or two?”
Dahlia hesitated, and said with a frown, “I’m sorry to say there aren’t. At least, none of the ships here are setting out, and we aren’t expecting any. The princes’ ship left this morning, and the two at the dock have business that won’t be settled for a few days.”
Karina would bet she really was sorry about that, and it gave her a totally irrational satisfaction to set against her own sharp pang of disappointment. Three or four more days here? Anything could happen in three days. With regard to pursuit, probably it was good they weren’t expecting a ship. But that didn’t mean there couldn’t be unexpected visitors. And she was stuck here.
Could she steal a boat? No, that was idiotic. She could probably steal one, but she couldn’t sail it, so what good would it do her?
She hated being on an island. There was nowhere to run.
“Surely that’s not the only reason you came in today?” Dahlia asked, plainly taking advantage of Karina’s momentary silence to try to regain control of the conversation.
“No, I was hoping to see Master Aurum,” Forrest said. “Do you know if he’s in?”
Dahlia blinked once, and the melodic tone of her voice went flatter. “Yes, he’s upstairs. You know which room.”
Oh, was that not the answer she had been hoping for? How very sad.
“Thanks, Dahlia,” Forrest said cheerfully, and headed for the stairs.
“It was so nice to meet you,” Karina said, because how could she pass the moment up? “Any friend of Forrest’s, you know.”
Dahlia’s mouth compressed into a straight line. “Yes, of course,” she said, turned, and swept back towards the kitchen in a flurry of skirts and a flash of lavender slippers.
Those slippers would probably wear out in a month, and the skirt would get in the way of—well, practically anything useful. Karina thumped up the stairs after Forrest, leather boots landing firmly on the wooden steps, bottom edge of her black cloak swirling about her ankles. Although…just now and then it might be nice to be the kind of person who wore clothes that were beautiful and impractical. Just now and then. Not most of the time, not even often, but… She shook her head. Sure, and it would also be nice to have a pocketful of gold.