Excerpt: The Wild Hunt

*** Author’s Note: This is one of many chapters which has been considerably condensed, for the purpose of posting this excerpt. For the full story, you will have to read the book! ***


They walk in silence to the secluded grove. He has been here many times; for her, it will be her first visit…but not her last. Her thoughts drift back as she follows him through the dense forest, recalling the events that led her here…

She is brought quickly back to the present as they emerge in the small clearing. The statue of the Forest Lord stands tall before them, brandishing a spear. His antlered aspect is fierce; his human torso well-formed and muscular. His two wolf companions snarl in stone effigy at his feet, worrying a boar.

The tall, broad-shouldered, wild-haired man turns to face her, his ice-blue eyes blazing in the moonlight that filters through the thick branches. “I ask you one final time, youngling – is this what you truly wish? Once this gift is given, it cannot be undone. You will be forever changed. For good or ill, none will ever be able to deceive you again. You will also never be able to speak a lie, no matter how small or insignificant. The truths that many wish to conceal will be laid bare…including your own.” She meets his gaze as he speaks, heeding his words and taking them into her heart and soul. This is the first time in…days? Months? in which her thoughts have been clear. If the curse laid upon her by the foul, wretched vampires can be lifted, she is willing to pay any price. Deceit is what laid her low and brought her here. She intends to see the cure through, and live with the blessings and the curse that it brings. Anything, other than death, is better than that disgusting affliction.

He finishes his short speech: “You will also be more susceptible to poisons, but immune to any and all diseases – including that of the blood-fever. You will be able to sense infections in others, even the unseen ills of the mind, and cure some of them – but, be mindful that you don’t deplete yourself in doing so.” He smiles and lays a large hand gently on her shoulder. “Not all are deserving of this blessing, and not all are capable of shouldering the responsibility that goes with it. You are one of the chosen few. Remember this.” She bows her head in acknowledgement. She has felt low and unworthy of anything as of late. Her whispered and shrieked, feverish prayers had been answered. She was not going to question this man’s reappearance in her life. Their paths had crossed, briefly, nearly a year ago. He was now her savior.

She raises her head, meeting his gaze again. “I’m ready,” she says softly. She extends her hand, palm up, and waits. He takes it – and, with a quick motion, bites into the flesh at the base of her thumb, just hard enough to draw blood. He licks at the red ooze briefly, then kisses her wrist, pats her hand gently and lowers it. “There – you have been marked.” He gazes at a blazing portal that is materializing in mid-air, just in front of the statue of the Forest Lord. “That is the entrance to the trial-grounds. Succeed or fail – there is no other option. Either way, you will be free of the blood-fever. This is your test alone.” He turns away and walks back the way they had come.

She calls after him. “Wait…please, I need to know your name. The one who saved my life must be given due honour.” He stops for a moment. He doesn’t turn around as he speaks. “Your life is your own to save – I only gave you my assistance. Still, if it must be known…return to me if you pass the trials. You will earn the right to know my name, if it is that important to you.” He half-turns then, a smile curving his beard and lifting the corners of his thick, salt-and-pepper mustache. “You will know that, and more, if you wish. The choice will be yours.” He tosses off a smart salute and vanishes into the dense forest.

She turns back to the portal, facing its blazing light. Giving a final glance up at the moons peeping through the thick branches overhead, she strides purposefully forward and enters the portal. The Wild Hunt begins…

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