This is an excerpt from Summersong, originally posted for others to consider for the PEARL nominations, but I thought I'd share here. I hope you enjoy, Sheri
TWICE UPON AN EVENTIDE
By Shannah Biondine and Sheri L. McGathy
ISBN-10: 1554045738 / ISBN-13: 978-1554045730
Award-winning fantasy authors Shannah Biondine and Sheri L. McGathy team up again, delivering twice the mystical adventure in this enthralling duet, Twice Upon an Eventide. Here are faraway worlds of danger and intrigue, where dark mirrors hold strange and dark secrets.
A Varlet's Bond (Shannah Biondine)
Captain Praxis, wyvern rider, former slave turned royal reeve and bounty hunter, has never forgotten her brief partnership with Prince Zavend of Glacia. Years have passed and now find Praxis a wealthy woman and sometime comrade of Zavend's disreputable brother, Vitus. A twist of fate draws all three back to the heart of Glacia, where an evil is spreading across the land. Can anyone or any sworn oath be trusted? Will Praxis find her heart soaring higher than a wyvern or crushed once and for all?
Summersong (Sheri L. McGathy)
Summersong, a magical border Keep created to maintain the fragile peace between Man and Faery, has lost its glory, its grandeur, and its loyal guardians. The land is dark, filled with turmoil. Yet, one bright glimmer of hope still exists. Long ago, Myree, daughter of a proud nobleman, made a childish vow of undying love in a secluded garden to heroic young Connair. Now grown, Connair has not forgotten that pledge. When Myree is abducted into a realm of shadows, he risks everything in his quest to save her and recover the heart of Summersong.
Summersong By Sheri L. McGathy
Long after the wizard completed his tale, the old storyteller remained quiet. He stared into the fire, but his gaze was far away, focused on something only he could see. Firelight danced in his eyes as he finally spoke, his voice soft and wistful, "Once, long ago, there was an ancient border Keep that dwelled between the realms of Man and Faery.
"They called it Summersong–a place of light and heart, peopled by those born of stardust, a gift from the winds of forevermore. Yet, Summersong was also a place where shadows lingered just beyond your sight, ever waiting for a chance to swallow the light and silence the beating of its heart."
The old storyteller leaned back against a fallen tree trunk. As he stretched out his long legs, he added, "Few ever knew the secret that Summersong kept or the real purpose it served.
"But evil, as evil is wont to do, befell Summersong and the Keep's true intent was soon forgotten by even those few.
"This is Summersong's tale. . . ."
She stood motionless within the silent bailey, with only a tear to show her grief. Nothing stirred. No mournful cries reached her ears. Summersong had been abandoned. Death stalked its lifeless halls. The great bloodline of the Far-mura stood sentinel no longer. Now only shades guarded the border between Man and Faery. She would find no solace here.
The stench of death nearly choked her, yet she refused to look away. The barrenness of the place matched the emptiness of her soul. Summersong's sorrow mirrored her own. Each had lost much this day, their hearts torn asunder. Summersong's heart lay cold and still upon the bloodied cobblestones while hers lay locked away in a horse-drawn carriage with her child–a child taken from her before drawing a single breath.
"My lady." Her handmaiden laid a hand on her arm. "Death reigns here, 'tis no place for the living. Come away, now. Let us seek shelter elsewhere."
When the lady did not move, the handmaiden glanced nervously over her shoulder before renewing her urgings. "We must be gone before others arrive to lay claim. They will surely blame us for this massacre if we are found here. The fragile peace of our two peoples will shatter. They will no longer trust our kind. Please. My lady, come away."
"Trust is fleeting," the lady said, her voice flat and emotionless. "Allegiances change as quickly as the seasons and all memory of former ties easily forgotten with no thought given to those who may be harmed." She shook her head as she gazed out to the dead. "Yet, compassion should never be forgotten. It is what makes us whole."
She tightened her fingers over the handmaiden's still grasping her sleeve. "The Far-mura knew this. They showed our people great kindness at a time when few would. I cannot repay them by leaving their spirits to an earthly limbo. The death rites must be performed. Their spirits must be set free. No pure trueborn Far-mura remains to see this done, so I shall do it for them."
"My lady, the others, they–"
"They do not tolerate what they do not understand, nor will their nature allow them to seek beyond what is shown to the truth that lies beneath. If we leave now, they will bury the Far-mura within the earth as they do their own, thinking it a kindness. Yet, without the words to set their souls free from their now useless flesh, the spirit of each Far-mura will be bound to the earth, unable to touch the sky or blend their voices with the ancient song of the wind. The spirit of Summersong will be silenced forever."
A visible shiver raced along the handmaiden's arm.
"It is too risky, my lady, you are too weak. The chants will tax you further. You will surely perish–"
"Nay, it is the right thing to do, regardless of the risk involved. Do not question my judgment. I will sing the words. Then," she said, as she pulled her cloak tight about her, "I will seek out those who have done this dishonorable deed and exact revenge for those who cannot."
The handmaiden sighed before saying, "Then you must lean on me, my lady, I will give you what strength I possess." She signaled to two burly warriors standing near the gatehouse wall. "Come, our mistress requires your aid."
Not waiting for the strength of her warriors, the lady leaned heavily upon her handmaid's arm as she raised her face to the sky and sang, "Hear my pleas, Father Wind, spoken for those who no longer have voice. Come, carry their souls to the homelands of old so that their spirits may return to the night skies and shine anew."
A gentle caress from a warm western wind wiped the sweat from her brow and eased the song from her lips. The sacred words of the Far-mura death chant echoed throughout the Keep, the solemn notes made all the more lonely by the unnatural silence hanging over the place. Soon, her voice merged with the mournful wails of Far-mura spirits as they abandoned their earthly vessels and soared skyward to join the wind in its ethereal dance.
The sun had set by the time the last spirit was set free and silence claimed the Keep once again. Exhausted, she sank to her knees upon the still warm cobblestones and let the evening breeze cool her fevered skin. As her handmaid had warned, the task had nearly drained her of her life force. It would be many days before she recovered, if she found the will to recover at all. She was no longer sure she wished to live in the light.
Her thoughts strayed back to her lost child, to the pain that crippled her will. As a sob tore from her throat, a weak cry echoed across the bailey. A child's cry.
She struggled to her feet. "Did you hear that?"
The warriors and the handmaid nodded. One of the warrior's pointed toward the far end of the bailey. "The sound came from within the Keep."
She motioned for silence. At first, she heard only the eerie wail of the wind as it swooped down upon the lifeless bailey, and then, faintly, almost without hope that someone would hear, the cry came again.
She stretched her hands out. "Take me there, now."
One of the warriors scooped her into his arms and carried her into the Great Hall. Death greeted them, yet a spark of life lingered in its dark midst.
"There," she said, pointing toward the grand fireplace at the far end of the room.
As they drew closer, the truth was revealed. On the floor, covered in her own blood, lay a lady of Summersong, her newborn child suckling her lifeless breast while resting a hand against the dagger hilt that had pierced the mother's heart. Pieces of dark glass clung to them both. Near them, his body littered with more of the strange dark glass, lay a Far-mura guardian, dead by his own hand, his fingers still curled about the dagger's hilt. A smile haunted his pale lips.
With shaking fingers, she lifted the child from the dead mother's arms and offered her own milk-heavy breast to suckle. As the babe clung to her, the light of hope renewed within her grieving heart.
"I claim this foundling for my own," she whispered against the softness of the child's hair.
"My lady," her handmaid said, "if you take the child, those who sought to destroy the Far-mura down to the last man, woman, and child will know they have failed. When the child's body is not found, their evil gaze will turn toward us."
She wrapped the child in the hem of her skirt. "Then I shall offer my own child in exchange so none will be the wiser." She met her handmaid's concerned gaze. "And none save us shall know the truth. I will have your words on it. The truth will remain here with the dead for the dead know how to keep their secrets."
As each nodded in turn, she added, "This child I hold in my arms belongs to the living, while the child of my flesh now resides with the spirits. I do no more than leave behind a reflection of what could have been while offering to another the promise of what could one day be.
"Come," she said as she stood, the child nestled close to her heart. "Let us fade from this world until the memory of the Far-mura is but a distant dream."