BOOK 1 in the Hexborn Chronicles series
Hexborn. Abomination. Unclean. Young Shiloh knows exactly what she is. She just refuses to let that stop her. Her illness might make her an outcast, but her broken body hides great magical power. And she intends to make the most of it.
Silas, the king’s ruthless fixer, seeks to use that power to preserve the uneasy peace the kingdom has enjoyed since the end of the Siblings’ War. Silas hauls Shiloh from her mountain village to the wizard academy at the king’s court, where magic and political intrigue conspire to create danger around every corner.
Can this child of war save the peace? Or will old sins rise to threaten Shiloh, Silas, and the kingdom of Bryn?AMAZON
READ AN EXCERPT:
The dust betrayed them. At the end of a long, dry summer in the Teeth, the hooves of their horses stirred up a cloud that billowed like smoke as they traversed the pass. Shiloh made out a flash of blue that she reckoned must be Lord Blackmine's crest. The Lord of the Teeth's men flew a banner with a white horse on a blue field.
Not that we see it much, given his lordship’s lack of interest in defending his lands and his folk.
The spots of red up in front she supposed might be Silas Hatch's household livery: a golden hatchet on blood crimson.
At least the man embraces his infamy.
She’d been packed for weeks, waiting. She could have run. That is what Brother Edmun had urged her to do, from his deathbed . . . Edmun, who had put her in mortal peril long before he'd learned to love her like a daughter.
He had let Shiloh read all his letters to the City, the ones in which he’d begged the Hatchet to find a place for her at the Royal Academy. He had extolled Shiloh’s virtue and her gifts at length, hopeful that his favorite old pupil would have mercy on his beloved young one. But at the last, Edmun’s fear for her safety had overcome his hopes for her future, and he'd urged the girl to fly away before Hatch’s men came stomping up their mountains.
She had considered it. As she'd wept into Edmun’s blankets after he'd finally breathed his last, she'd considered it. As she’d watched his wands crumble to dust as they died with him, she’d considered it. As she’d prepared him for burial, as she’d put him in the ground, as she had waited for weeks . . .
And, yet, here she stood, waiting patiently for an infamous, ruthless stranger to spirit her away.
As she watched the cloud of dust move ever closer to her home, she considered her choice one last time. Her options were limited. No other village would ever accept a hexborn stranger, and a bastard foundling at that. Her own had only tolerated her because they’d feared to cross Edmun and her father, and because her skills had made her useful. She was surprised they hadn’t tried to drive her out of town since her men had died.
If not a village, then where? Living as a hermit in the woods lacked appeal, not least because her ill health turned every winter into mortal combat. Besides, the Feralfolk were not exactly fond of her. She would be easily caught if she ventured any further west, closer to the City. She had not the money to go abroad, to Estany.
Thus, she waited, and she hoped that all of her work, and all Edmun’s plotting, had not been in vain. She wondered how the soldiers would react if her village failed to produce her.
Not well, she thought.
It would serve them right.
Before Hatch and his men entered the village of Smoke Valley, there they were: a half-dozen charred skulls on pikes at the edge of the road leading down from the pass, a warning to outlaws to steer clear of the settlement. He squinted and held out a gloved hand as if feeling for heat. A muscle in his face twitched.
“Looks like they’re holding their own against the Feralfolk,” Perce observed. The men grunted with approval after they traced superstitious circles on their foreheads.
“She, not they. Magic killed them all,” Hatch countered grimly, before prodding his horse to continue past the macabre display. He heard retching behind him and turned to find Wilar, the young priest sent to replace Edmun, vomiting into the brush.
Hatch shook his head. These high country folk are going to walk all over him. Let’s hope he doesn’t pass out the first time he sees one of them chop the head from a chicken.
“A little girl from the Teeth, all by her lonesome, killed six grown men?” Perce asked skeptically. “A girl who hasn’t even been to the Academy yet? Isn’t it more likely this Brother Edmun did them in?”
Hatch fixed his sharp eyes upon his companion. “That is possible, but as poor as his health has been these last years, I find it unlikely. The rumors all say the girl killed them. As to the child’s education, Brother Edmun was the finest sorcerer at the Royal Academy for decades before the war started. He was the youngest headmaster ever appointed. She’ll know more walking through the door than many of our most gifted noblemen know when they finish their studies. You underestimate her at your peril.”
Perce held up his hands in surrender. “Yes, Uncle. It’s just . . . it’s a lot to believe. A hexborn kid that he found in the woods grows up and kills grown Feralfolk without even having a wand to use?”
“She might have used one of his. Stranger things have happened,” Hatch replied. “And my source in South Lake has proved reliable in the past. Evidently, the Feralfolk had just killed her father when the . . . incident . . . occurred. That is certainly plausible motivation.
“You’re not old enough to have been in the war. I saw grieving wizards slaughter entire companies of men after losing a beloved companion on the battlefield; some of them were barely older than this foundling. Power comes in unlikely packages, and rage can unlock any box you try to hide it in.”
“Where do you suppose she even came from?” Perce asked.
“There are a number of possibilities. She was born in the last days of the war. Many of the monks and nuns drafted into the fighting broke their vows in those days. Of those who bore children from such illicit unions, some abandoned or killed them in the hopes of hiding their guilt. Some ran off and became Feralfolk along with their offspring,” Silas explained patiently.
“It is fortunate that the girl was found by someone interested in proving his loyalty. Had she been raised a Feral, or spirited out of the country by the king’s enemies, she could have become a significant problem for the realm. A weapon like that, in hostile hands,” Silas concluded, “could be devastating.”
“Do you think she’ll come quietly, Uncle Silas?”
“I think the chances are good. Edmun claims that she is as devout and patriotic a lass as could be found anywhere. Even if that is an exaggeration, if she were not clever, Edmun would not have bothered with her. He never was an easy man to impress. I doubt he gentled with age,” Silas opined.
“And if she seems like a threat, once we have her in hand?” his nephew asked.
Silas turned his intimidating gaze upon Perce once again. “Then we shall fulfill our duty to kingdom and crown. Why do you suppose King Rischar sent me to handle this myself?”