I’m so excited. Exactly two weeks from today Tales of the Archer will officially be released! As a special sneak preview, you can read the first chapter free below. Order soon to take advantage of the $0.99 preorder sale.
Reid Tarhill watched the bonfire crackle and flare, sending sparks like stars up into the velvet sky. The bright crisp moon beyond the fragrant boughs of the sheltering pines heralded the return of the growing season and warmer weather. The rare gift of belonging warmed Reid against winter’s lingering chill far more than the bonfire’s glow or even the smoky heat from Aedan’s stolen flask. As the tang of wood smoke tickled his nose, he reveled in the merriment around him.
He couldn’t remember the last time his family had attended a Fire Night. His father, Tamrach Tarhill, disdained raucous celebrations, avoiding them with dogged determination. Tonight though, Reid’s mother had worked her subtle magic on the old curmudgeon and here they were—under the stars with all the families of Bear Clan. Their village was small compared with their sister clans at Seal Bay or Eagle’s Nest. Less than a hundred homes in all nestled under the towering pines tucked in the curve of the great White Mountain Range.
Now, those hearths stood empty as the entire clan gathered in the village clearing to celebrate the turn of season. Of all in attendance, only Reid’s father stood apart, leaning in the shadows of the nearby hall with arms crossed and a sour face.
A curiously tenacious idea had been dogging Reid’s mind for weeks, sparked by a chance meeting. Brigga, his mother, had sent him to the kitchens just before the midwinter festival with a request for Ingrid, the village herbalist. Usually, his mother would have taken the opportunity to go chat with Ingrid herself, but that day she sent Reid instead. The chieftain’s daughter Maura was there kneading dough for sweet rolls and nut breads for the festival.
Reid knew Maura, of course. In such a small village, it would be impossible not to know everyone. They’d played together as children being close to the same age. But that day, her rosy cheeks and mussed chestnut curls struck a chord in him that reverberated still.
Tonight, he intended to make an impression not easily forgotten. Unfortunately, before he could, his brothers decided to grace the gathering with a song. A song sure to make its own impression, and not a good one.
He watched with dismay as Connor and Maclan leaned into each other, drunkenly howling an unrecognizable rendition of Hang the Moon. Brawny and red-haired, the two young men were often mistaken for twins though more than two winters separated their births.
“Twas when she saw the cliffs of stone, Our cousins near the sea, That in the waves, she found her love, Alas it be not me-e-e.”
Their off-key enthusiasm had the bonfire itself sputtering in dismay at their performance.
With only eighteen winters behind him, Reid was the youngest of the Tarhill brothers. They had no sisters which was a blessing considering his father’s temperament. Although he loved his brothers, Reid cringed at their terrible serenade. Finally, he could stand it no longer.
“Enough!” he yelled over their bearish warbling. “Let someone who can sing finish the song.”
Laughing agreement swelled through the crowd of villagers amid calls for the brothers to sit down. Connor and Mac countered with churlish indignation, but eventually, were persuaded to stop. They dropped onto the bench behind them which tipped dangerously under their petulance.
“But who will finish the song?” complained a young woman who was a recent flirtation of Connor’s.
“Reid challenged, so he should,” one of the younger girls piped up, a challenge of her own on her face. Her name was Granya, and lately she and her sisters had been eyeing Reid across the dining hall, whispering behind their hands. He’d never attracted that kind of attention before. And even as her suggestion drew murmurs of approval from the Clan, he hesitated.
Isn’t this exactly what I wanted? he chided himself.
“Aedan,” he called to a lanky boy across the fire, “shall we show them how it’s done?”
Aedan O’Shiran was the finest baritone in the village and one of Reid’s only close friends. Working the trap lines had left little time for people outside the family, but Aedan had always found a way to drag Reid on adventures.
“We’d better,” Aedan said, “before they bring a rutting moose down on us.”
The crowd whooped with laughter as Aedan sauntered over to Reid.
Old Tarhill always disdained such fanciful pursuits as music and stories. When he wasn’t around, however, Reid’s mother insisted the boys sing songs and tell stories to lighten their chores and hers. Of the three boys, Reid was the storyteller and usually Connor was the songbird. Although judging by tonight’s performance, liquor had stolen Connor’s ability to carry a tune.
As he stood to join Aedan, Reid pulled a stringed instrument from beneath his bench. A pregnant hush of curiosity fell over the families when he tucked it beneath his chin. Maclan had assured him that most of the clan wouldn’t have seen its like. It was a violhe, bought from a Southern bard in Cortland a few months ago. Its polished wood gleamed like copper in the firelight. Reid had practiced with the bow late into the night up on the slopes until he could make those strings sing. The violhe possessed a haunting soprano voice.
Risking a glance at his father, Reid saw the familiar scowl deepen at the sight of the instrument, and he balked at the harsh disdain. Then his mother stepped forward, the motion drawing his eyes to her encouraging smile. He stared blankly, frozen, until she nodded at him to continue. Taking a breath, he noticed the eager faces in the firelight, all of them waiting to be entertained.
Regardless of his father’s disapproval, it was too late to back out now. He signaled the drummer to start the song again.
As Aedan sang the story of a frustrated suitor, the violhe’s lilting counterpoint portrayed a lover’s longing. Reid became acutely aware they’d captured the eyes of the entire clan, but there was only one pair of eyes he cared about.
Scanning the crowd, he found Maura near the hall sitting between her parents. The sight of her always soothed something inside him. Now, as she watched him closely, his heart lifted. Her wide-set mahogany eyes followed his fingers as they danced over the strings, her own fingers twirling the tufted end of her chestnut braid.
A smile crept across his face. He certainly had her attention and he wasn’t going to waste it. He poured everything he had into the performance.
When the song was done, he wiped the sweat from his brow as the villagers stomped their approval and called for another. Grinning, the two boys obliged with a dancing tune that brought many clansmen to their feet. Maura didn’t dance with the others. Instead, she simply sat and watched him. He decided to take that as a good sign.
After the dance, Aedan and Reid sat down to let others take a turn. Ales were pressed into their hands and Reid’s brothers gruffly pounded his back with pride. The party continued loudly into the night. Tales were told and music played. Reid and Aedan were called upon time and again to entertain. Whenever Reid played, Maura’s eyes followed him with curious intensity. But when he stopped performing, his tongue stuck to his teeth and he found himself strangely shy.
“You know what you are, Tarhill?” Aedan said, punching Reid’s arm. “You’re a coward.” He laughed as he disappeared into the dancing throng. The next moment, Reid saw him twirling a blushing Granya around the bonfire.
Connor thumped down onto the seat next to him. “Still afraid of that girl, are ya?” he asked with a smirk, jerking his chin at Maura.
“I’m not afraid of her,” Reid said, feeling heat creep up his neck. “I’m just…”
“Afraid of saying something stupid,” Connor finished with a nod as if he understood. “But you shouldn’t fret. How many times have I told you, brother? Pity is often better than handsome when it comes to attracting women.”
“I don’t want her pity,” Reid said.
“I’d not have gotten my first kiss if it weren’t for pity,” Connor continued, ignoring Reid’s petulance. “Probably not my second, third or fifth kisses either,” he mused.
Reid snorted with disdain.
Connor raised an eyebrow. “Remember what Ingrid says: don’t turn your nose up at something you haven’t tried.” He elbowed his little brother, winked, and then stood to join the dancing himself.
Just as Reid worked up the courage to approach Maura, he felt his father’s stare. He looked over to where Tarhill stood and saw the slow shake of his head, an eerie warning as if Tarhill knew Reid’s thoughts.
Anxiety twinged in his chest. With his father so intent on him, any move he made would reveal his true purpose and that was something Reid preferred to keep to himself. He settled back into his seat. He’d have to be satisfied that he’d snagged Maura’s attention.
As the moon descended toward the mountains and the bonfire burned low, Brigga rounded them up. She singled Reid out with a hug and whispered in his ear. “I remember the summer you and Maura were each other’s shadows. It’s good to see you mend that bridge.”
Me and Maura?
Reid had no idea what his mother was talking about. He knew of people who remembered when they first learned to walk or their first hunt, but he remembered nothing from his youngest years, except Tarhill’s temper. Still, a man ought to remember someone who had been his shadow. That it had been only a summer meant it had been short-lived and perhaps meant less than his mother thought.
Her comment perplexed him, but she moved off to slip a soft hand through his father’s arm, forestalling any questions. Reid watched them, silhouetted in the light that glowed from the windows of their home ahead. Old Tarhill possessed the long, slow stride common to narrow, sharp-jointed men. Brigga was nearly as tall, but curved. She kept pace with him easily, leaning her head against Tamrach’s bony shoulder with affection.
His father’s disdain for beauty in any form was well known, and most considered his choice of wife a perfect example. Reid’s mother could never have been considered handsome in any sense of the word—even as a young woman. Reid had heard folks say that he married her for her homeliness. A perfect fit for the curmudgeonly Tarhill.
The disrespect in such remarks angered Reid because while Brigga was unassuming on the outside, her heart was deep and generous. Her motherly smile never failed to instill a hope that good things were waiting just around the corner. Many villagers sought her out in times of trouble and she never failed to open her hearth and heart to them.
Reid marveled at the rare softness on Tarhill’s face as the older man pressed thin lips to her hair.
“Still ma girl?” The old man’s hoarse whisper barely reached Reid.
His mother gave a soft chuckle. “Always,” she whispered back and leaned in to kiss his cheek.
As far as Reid could tell Tamrach Tarhill loved only two things in the world: his wife and Maclan.
When they reached home, his mother kept Tarhill busy with talk of trading and trapping until the boys went to sleep. Reid was grateful to be spared the inevitable lecture on his folly.
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