Sorry for the delay, but we are accompanying our terminally ill cat, the handsome and intrepid Ramses (also known as Miezie and the model for Cicero in the Schattenreich books) on his last days with us. I hope there are still many days still remaining for our dear friend of 17 years (see picture at bottom), but it is hard to be sure.
Consequently, I am also behind on getting the Terrae Motus Books website ready for launch (it will eventually replace sharonreamer.com). To keep abreast of new releases and giveaways/promotions exclusive to subscribers, please sign up to receive my quarterly newsletter. I had planned on a 3rd quarter release of both the newsletter and the ebook (uh, that was last week, right?), but am now looking ahead to a fourth quarter, post-holiday, gentle launch of both paperback and ebook. It will be available before that time, wide, in a variety of outlets. Naturally, I will post updates on the blog.
So, on to the excerpt. I have picked this passage, not at the beginning but only a little ways into the book, as it's a nice standalone scene and provides a good framework for the novel and its themes. And of course, I didn't want to
|Book 5 of the Schattenreich|
We started from Lahn-dunum, the Schattenreich counterpart to Burg Lahn that now existed firmly within the borders of Ande-dubnos. I hadn’t been here since Heinrich, Hagen and I drank the funky-tasting water infused with the essence of the Dreams that allowed us to see into each other’s souls. I jumped at the eerie wailing emanating from the depths of Lahn-dunum’s crypts. I had last been down there when my uncle Niehls stabbed me in the neck.
Heinrich looked as puzzled as I felt.
Hagen didn’t. “Lahn-dunum has a new guardian. But he is still experiencing some, ah, adjustments to his new home.”
Sebastian crossed his arms. “Is he secure?”
“Quite,” Hagen said. “But I haven’t had a chance to check in on him recently. That will have to wait until a later time. Brides first?”
Hagen pushed open a set of double-doors leading out of Lahn-dunum. I’d never entered or exited through the front doors before. Or even remembered seeing them. Another first. Maybe they only existed on this night, Kala Goañv, Samhain, the festival associated with the end of the harvest and the coming of winter.
And now it would be celebrated as the eve of our wedding night. My second wedding night.
We reached the wooden bridge that separated Ande-dubnos from the Schattenreich. Its carved railings resembled my bedposts. In the dark, I could only hear the water rushing underneath. Because of more than one fateful encounter here, I looked both ways before hurrying to follow the others across. I supposed we were making a shortcut through the Schattenreich, but wasn’t sure. Hagen led us to the right, down a darkening path, lined on either side with brambles and sickly looking trees.
“Haven’t been this way before,” I mumbled.
“It’s not usually open to travel,” Hagen said.
The two full moons in the sky shone with a pale, pearly light. Heinrich reached upward and twisted his hand as if turning a faucet. We were blanketed in moonlight that cast an envelope around us, holding the darkness at bay. My moon shone through the trees, not quite full. It no longer had a dark growth blotting out its brilliance. I breathed out in relief, my legs feeling more solid.
We reached an archway of thick, tangled branches.
“Watch out for the thorns,” Hagen said. “They induce a stupor, followed by pain.”
We moved through the arch singly. I went last, holding my traveler’s cloak tight around me. Heinrich pulled out a binioú kozh, his Breton bagpipe; it looked ancient and more like a water bladder made from goatskin than a bagpipe. He played a few notes.
I shifted on my feet. “Are we waiting for someone?”
A series of plaintive cries reached us. Not wails; they sounded more like pleas, pleas to the living. Even though I didn’t understand the words, I understood their meaning: Give us life. Give us your life.
And there they waited, far from us, across a wide open plain bordered on the far end by forest. Even at a distance, they were easy to see; four of them, sunken-in men, their clothes in disarray and their hair plastered to their heads.
“Who are you?” I felt myself calling to them.
Hagen grimaced and grasped my shoulder, his arm around me. With his other hand, he covered my mouth. “Don’t—”
The sky lightened as if from a sudden brightening of the moons. The ground shook. I took a breath to shout a warning, but Hagen kept his hand firmly over my mouth. My eyes closed for a moment. When I opened them, the four men had closed at least half the distance between us. I hadn’t even seen them move. They cried again, the mournful sounds penetrating my skull, making me shiver.
I wanted to mimic their cries. My throat tightened.
Hagen nodded to Heinrich, who started a slow dirge on his bagpipe. The men turned and marched away in time to his music. We followed the dead men in one long procession. I fought the fright gripping my groin by putting one foot in front of the other.
The well-trodden path, its dark gravel ground into the equally dark and foul-smelling earth was bordered on either side by withered plants and bare-limbed trees that seemed hunched over with their own weight. We followed it into the woods. We were in Ankou’s domain. The sudden knowledge didn’t cripple me with fear – I was with Hagen and this was where he came to do his Ande-dubnos duty by guiding the dead to their final resting place – but it didn’t encourage relaxation on my part.
We made the trek in grim silence, relieved only by snuffling sounds from either side of the path. I looked once. Orange-red eyes glared back at me. Whatever creature belonged to those eyes had bulk, a darker shadow hulking against the darkness.
But although the creature jerked upwards when our eyes met, it didn’t move to intercept us. After that, I kept my eyes fixed on Hagen, striding confidently in front of me. Heinrich flanked me from behind, followed by Sebastian. He hummed quietly.
The path ended at a steep bluff. The dead men had deserted us, vanishing into a mist that rose behind us. Hagen turned and moved backwards along a faint trail that wound down, his hands braced on stones and protruding, famished-looking tree roots that lined the way. Once he reached the bottom, he motioned for us to follow him.
In the twilit evening we scrambled down. A patch of moonlight just behind a range of hills in the near distance called us on.
“Are we there yet?” I asked.
He smiled. “Just over the hills.”
The meandering trail through gentle hills led us into a bowl-shaped dale. A single-file procession marched downwards from the hills opposite us. Hagen called a halt when we reached a jumble of moss-covered boulders to the right of the path.
“Just find a place to sit comfortably. We won’t have long to wait,” Hagen said.
Heinrich slung his binioú kozh in preparation for playing, and Sebastian sat next to me, taking my hand in his.
“Who are they, Tadig?”
“What are they doing here?”
“Celebrating. And remembering. Like us. Look. A few of the Tud join us.” My father pointed behind us, to the path we had just taken.
A line of about a dozen Tud, one of several races of beings who inhabited Ande-dubnos, came our way. These were the tall ones with fair skin and long silvery hair. They stood near a group of boulders to the left of the path. A couple of them nodded to us, and they watched Heinrich expectantly.
Then I saw Ankou. He stood where the path opened out to the grassy dale, where the dead had just passed. He wore his black cloak and wielded his iron-tipped staff, his legs spread. His hair blew behind him, his skin an unearthly white. He waited until the last of the dead passed by. When they were all gathered in the middle of the downs, Ankou rapped his staff on the ground three times.
The dead began to sing. Ankou rapped his staff three more times. Some danced, but mostly they moved amongst each other in a grim Irish wheel, touching one other as they passed, many of them turning, gazing as if searching for someone or something, the short cropped grasses not even marked by their passing. Hagen gazed in the same way. He tapped Heinrich on the shoulder.
Out in the middle of the dale, Hagen and Heinrich’s mother Isabel glided past the other souls. Her face had none of the life and hope so visible in the pictures Heinrich had shown me in Dinard, but she was beautiful, with a kissed-by-moonlight paleness contrasting her long dark hair and slender form.
Beautiful and dead. So near but so far away.
Heinrich played a few notes on his bagpipe, then stopped to sing to her in Brezhoneg, not a funeral dirge, but a song that sounded both happy and sad. Heinrich’s clear voice conveyed respect and longing.
Isabel glanced once our way and then continued her search. Was she looking for Hagen’s father Theodor? One of the dead men took her hand and led her in a slow dance. She didn’t resist. The others joined them, swaying and turning to Heinrich’s song.
Ankou kept a close watch on his flock. When one of them strayed too far towards us, he would call them back with a commanding voice that touched me in the deep place where my fear of him still lived. But what could he possibly threaten the dead with?
I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer to that question, but as I turned to ask Hagen, Ankou stood before us. He had moved across the dale in less time than it took me to open my mouth to speak, as quick as the dead men who had led us here. I turned my face away, unwilling to meet Ankou’s eyes.
His claim on me had not yet come to pass; he would have to wait. I married the man of my heart’s desire tonight and was still very much alive and a part of his life. Ankou bowed and reached out a hand to me. Was he asking me to dance?
I shrank back. Hagen reached me and took my hand in a tight grip. He held out a hand to ward off Ankou’s advance. “Your claim on Katarin is not yet due. What do you seek from the living?” A ring of light glowed a ghostly white on Hagen’s little finger.
Ankou bowed. “A dance to celebrate Kala Goañv and the day of your promising.”
Was our wedding night to be the cause of hostility? Hagen couldn’t tell me about the unfinished business between them because of a geis. But if all Ankou wanted was a dance, then I could do that. I took my hand from Hagen’s and extended it to Ankou.
A light touch on my shoulder made me turn my head.
“May I have the pleasure of a dance with you, milady?” Brionne, the Tud I once met at the Sea of Dreams, the night Heinrich and I made love for the first time, stood next to me. For the evening’s festivities, he wore a burgundy red suit featuring a double-breasted long-tail coat that went well with his platinum hair. Hagen smiled and nodded his head in approval.
Brionne bowed to Ankou and turned back to me. Ankou’s face betrayed no emotion, but a brief smile of acknowledgement appeared.
I gave Brionne my hand. “I’d be honored.”
The other Tud danced with us, their long arms and legs swirling, rising and falling. Ankou swiveled his head to watch us. Their enthusiasm pushed me into a frenzy, just like on Kala Hañv, the Maifest, when I ran with the Tud to honor Eduard’s passing. Here it had none of the urgency of the Wild Hunt I had fled.
I didn’t need to escape Death. Not tonight. Not yet.
Hagen joined Heinrich in his song, his voice higher but in harmony. I’d never heard him sing before. The words poured out evening a rich timbre; although I didn’t understand their meaning, the carefully contained emotion behind them seemed clear. Sebastian added his voice to the chorus, and put his arms across their shoulders. Heinrich ended the song with a few plaintive notes from his Breton bagpipe.
I curtsied low to Brionne and thanked him for the dance before turning again to the dead. The souls in the middle of the downs continued their own songs, voices strengthening and then fading away. Sobs and cries issued forth. They intensified their movements as if working up to a grand finale. At a signal from Ankou, they abruptly turned and began the climb back to where they had come from.
Hagen took a few steps closer to Ankou. They faced off, their words swallowed in a wind that swirled around them, a wind Ankou caused with a flourish of his iron rod, so that none of us were privy to their conversation. Heinrich held me around the waist.
Finished with what they had to say to each other, Druid and Death regarded each other across the short distance between them before Ankou turned and followed his flock, his long hair flowing around him. He turned once more and bowed to me before continuing on his way. My husband started after him, a momentary sadness lingering in his expression, until Sebastian clasped him by the shoulder.
We began the trek back home.
|our beloved Miezie|