Happy Saturday! This week, I wanted to share something that’s been bubbling on the pot. I’m happy to announce the second tale in the Snow Queen series. It’s currently going through its final edits, and then through copy edits, and should be available soon.
To celebrate, I’d like to share the first chapter. I’ll also, over the course of the next couple of Saturdays, be adding two short stories from the Snow Queen world to the library.
I’m working on the third book (OF INDIGO AND ICE), and am hoping to finish the series this year. I’m excited to see where things go from here and can’t wait to share! In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this brief snippet of that which is to come.
Have a great weekend!
OF FIREBIRDS AND FROST: CHAPTER ONE
The moon was restless.
The velvet sky stretched out before her, lit with thousands of stars and possibilities, each enticing her to forget. Or, if forgetting was too much to ask, to remind her of her duties and privileges.
But for all the stories the constellations whispered, for all the promises the shooting stars hinted at, three memories saw her growing paler and paler with the passing of each night.
Four, if one was being particular, but the other memories all tied to the fourth, and giving the Babas Yaga the distinction of distressing the moon would only serve to encourage them.
All bound together by the nefarious workings of a single witch. A witch multiplied by three, now that she’d set her sisters free.
As if the world hadn’t problems enough.
The moon shook out her skirts, and moonbeams darted from her pearly gown to add their own glow to the night. Despite her dour mood, her lips curved up as the moonbeams danced and sang their merry tunes of slumber and dreams and airy creatures with gossamer wings. They nudged and tugged at her, begging her to join the dance.
But her feet remained still, and she’d stopped drifting as though pinned against the sky. For there, in a small circle of elms, was a house with one window and no door. The hut rocked gently on its chicken-footed foundations as if it were a live thing breathing in the deep vapors of sleep.
But the moon knew better than most that the witch—witches—who lived inside rarely slept and kept at least one eye open when they did.
Without conscious thought, the moon wandered dangerously close to the earth, straining to gaze through the single window that stared back at her, unblinking. Why had the witches left their window unguarded? Most nights, the window was shuttered from the inside, daring her to find a crack large enough to squeeze a moonbeam through. As though she would send a moonbeam there!
A thread of sorrow wove itself through her indignation. She had sent a moonbeam into that hut after a small human girl once upon a time.
At the thought of her fallen moonbeam, the moon turned her face away from the witches’ den. It was not often that silvery tears made their way down her cheeks, and she would not give the Babas Yaga the satisfaction of collecting them now.
But before she had turned completely away, a gentle glow from the window caught the corner of her eye. Against her will, she drew closer still. So close, the earth groaned with the weight of one bright foot as she stepped down from the sky and into the forest.
The night was her realm, and all that came with it. She ought to have been content with that. But from the very first time she saw the tiny bird made of fire and magic, something had tugged at a heart she’d only been half aware she’d possessed.
She pressed her face against the window, caution and dignity forgotten as her eyes swept past the shelves and shadows to the very center of the room. Flames the color of acid withered a gnarled log in the hearth, while the baby firebird pressed itself as close to the fire as its cage permitted.
The cage was made of bone polished to a sheen that rivaled the moon herself, and it was hung from the ceiling just out of reach of the hearth and the flames the firebird hungered for.
The firebird had grown since she’d seen it last. Its head was bent to the side and its wings tucked awkwardly against it while its crest and magnificent tail feathers were squashed into the too-small cage wherever bird and bone allowed.
“Long noses make for an excellent soup,” a dry, brittle voice observed from behind her.
The moon whirled around and found herself not only in a circle of elm, but a half circle of witches as well.
“Aye,” the second witch, identical to the first and the third, agreed amicably. “And with a nose that long, we’d eat well for many a long night.”
While the moon spluttered indignantly, the third gave her a look so chilling it made all the words crowding on her tongue fly back down her throat in a flurry of fear.
“You wouldn’t be thinking of stealing anything from three poor old grannies, now would you, my dear?” The witch’s sneer was not in the least like anything resembling a poor granny, though the moon had to give her points on old. The three witches had been old long before the moon had taken to the sky.
“You are cruel,” the moon said, her voice little more than light and dew.
The witches gave each other a long look that felt too much like amusement.
“We have been called cruel before.”
“Indeed. We have been called worse.”
The moon jabbed a frosty finger at the window, too angry to care that she was facing what was likely the only force in the world powerful enough to stop even her. “You keep that poor thing caged in there. Can’t you see that you’re crushing it?”
“And we have done much worse than mere cruelty.”
At this, the moon took a step back, only to find herself bumping into that reprehensible thing these old hags called home. The witches’ grins widened, and they seemed to be three steps closer without having moved at all.
“Is the hawk cruel for satiating its hunger?”
“Is the hand cruel for smashing the flea that bites it?”
“And is the snake cruel for biting the foot that treads upon it?”
The moon pressed her lips together before she decided to ask a riddle of her own. In the face of so much witch, her tongue had lost its knack for cleverness, so direct would have to do. “Why would you torment it so when you have the power to set it free?”
The witches froze, and for a long moment even the sky held its breath. Then, as one, they threw back their heads and cackled. Their laughter rang through the air with a sound that withered crops and emptied streams and wove dark thoughts through golden dreams.
The moon clenched her hands into fists. Mortals, by turn, had hated and adored her, but they had never laughed at her before.
“You are the moon,” one said.
“With all the might and power of the night and sky,” the second sang.
The third skewered her with another look. “And from your lofty throne above, do you not see all manner of crafty cruelty and clumsy wickedness?”
“The earth is not my domain.” Why had she given into curiosity and melancholy? At the mention of the sky, the earth grew even heavier beneath her feet, and her limbs trembled with the need to feel the weightless sky encircling her once more.
“But you have the power.”
“And the might.”
“And the infernal meddlesome streak that dooms kingdoms and slays heroes.”
There was a moral here, with these three, there always was, and it rankled her to be lectured by the likes of the Babas Yaga. Yet they were who they were with good reason.
The moon gritted her teeth. “It is not my place.”
“And yet, here you are.” The first grinned, a slash of wickedness darker than the night.
“Like a petty thief at our doorstep.” The second gestured toward the hut.
“A hungry beggar who refuses to catch her own food.”
At this, the moon stiffened. “I am neither thief nor beggar.” She gave them a haughty look. “And neither am I cruel for cruelty’s sake.”
Rather than being offended, the three witches grinned at each other.
“Few seldom are.”
“Cruelty, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.”
The third shrugged the gnarled red shawl she wore more tightly about her shoulders. “Great power wielded carelessly is power lost.”
“Oh, someone gains,” the first said, sniggering into her sleeve.
The second gave a delighted cackle. “Finders keepers!”
“And long noses must oft times be cut short.” From her skirts, the third witch pulled out a small spool of silver string. The moon gazed at it, mesmerized. Never before had she seen such purity of color.
“Twice you’ve interfered in our doings.” The first held out her hand for the string. With deft fingers, she plucked up the end and pulled it taut against the spool.
“Twice you’ve lost something dear.” The second licked her thumb before rubbing it down the string the first held steady.
“And twice you shall be punished accordingly.” The third drew out a pair of shears, every bit as marvelous in color as the string. She snipped at the air, a look of loving adoration on her face at the snicker-snack as the shears opened and closed with deadly intent.
“I have never interfered in your doings,” the moon said. And she hadn’t, not directly.
The witches eyed her with brows raised, reading her heart, her thoughts, and her dreams in a single glance.
“Intent matters more than deed,” the first one said with a hint of a whine in her voice.
“Aye,” the second said. “She would have meddled before, just as she would meddle now.”
The moon put her hands on her hips. “I am not meddling!”
The third hesitated, a strange gleam in her eye. With obvious regret, she lowered her shears. “Haste may lay waste to a kingdom.”
“Aye, but it may also de-heart the dragon.”
“Before or after it sets the world aflame?” the second giggled. “The order matters. At least to the would-be hero.”
“I am not a hero,” the moon said softly, still staring at the string. The magic within it called to her, and she had to keep her fists clenched in her skirts to keep from leaning forward and snatching it from Baba Yaga’s grimy fist. Something told her that she traveled along the point of a knife, and that any of the witches would be happy enough to give her a little nudge off onto the blade.
Now they all stared at her with eyes every bit as luminous as her stars. Their malice was there, but so, too, was something else. Something older than time and heartache. Something that told her to be still and to tread lightly. Something that promised everything and nothing at all.
“But you would be.”
“You want to be.”
“You hunger,” the third said simply, gesturing to the window where a baby firebird lit the room with a golden glow as it strained toward the fire.
“It is a creature of the sky,” the moon tried to explain. But how to put into words something that had been strong enough to summon her from her place? How to say what she meant, when she wasn’t sure what she meant at all? “It needs air and fire beneath its wings.”
The first put her finger to the side of her nose. “Then why are we talking to you?”
“Aye. Why didn’t the sun come himself to fetch his pet?”
The third, for a change, waited. Silent. Watchful.
The moon opened her mouth, but could find no reply. Why indeed? The firebird was the sun’s creature, not hers. So why had she come? In her mind’s eye, she saw the distant glow of a small moonbeam, a babe really. A moonbeam she’d sent to comfort and protect a human girl who had found herself trapped in the treacherous web of a witch.
“That which belongs to the sky should have no chains binding it to the earth.” Her heart trembled with the weight of the chain—a simple request, thoughtlessly given—that had been the moonbeam’s doom. A chain she had fashioned herself out of a notion of misguided compassion.
“Aye,” the second said, giving her a pointed look.
“Agreed.” The first gave a decisive nod.
“Goodbye,” the third said. She raised her shears and opened them with a sharp snick! Then, her eyes never leaving the moon’s, she ran the top blade along the silver string.
The moon’s cry died in her throat when she realized the witch hadn’t cut the string. No, it was all still in one piece. But it was shrinking fast.
“What—?” And then she realized the string wasn’t the only thing that was shrinking. “No, wait!” she called, reaching for the earth that retreated faster than she could counter. Her stars hummed about her with furious intent as they pulled her back up to the sky.
Down below, so small they were only specks, the three witches turned their backs to her and dove, one after another, into the chimney. Smoke puffed in gentle clouds from the chimney once they had all made their exit. Dark clouds edged with mischief.
For a moment, the moon fought against the stars, against the magic pulling her up into the sky. Then, shoulders slumped, she allowed herself to be towed back home like a naughty moonbeam who’d been caught working mischievous dreams among the mortals.
Now that the sky had cleared her head, she could feel the faint hum of the silver string buzzing sweet music through her feet and up through her fingers. Could feel the sky resonating with it.
What this meant, and what the string was—she didn’t know. She wasn’t mortal, and so the Babas wouldn’t have a thread for her. Yet for now, she could only feel the music spinning through and about her. Promising. Hoping. Living. But of one thing she was certain: the three witches were dangerous and powerful. Not to be crossed.
And she was going to cross them anyway on behalf of a creature who was not even her own.
For the second time.
The moon shuddered at the thought of being bound to the earth, at the weight of its power crushing the call of the sky within until nothing was left but a puddle of light and a scattering of stardust. Or, in the case of the firebird, ashes and a streak of soot.
She glanced at the tiny speck of a hut guarded by the stand of elms once more, but even she was not foolish enough to tempt fate twice so soon. Especially not when fate had pointed teeth, wicked cackles, and a bottomless hunger.
The stars sang softly into the folds of the sky. Glittering and shining, hoping to distract her from what could only end in folly or the soup pot. She smiled at them, grateful for their presence. The sky had been vast and empty before they’d come, and she had been lonely without ever knowing the word. But from the time the first star sprang into existence, they had been there. Constant and steadfast. A light for her to lean on when, on occasion, her gaze strayed from the night sky.
“Thank you,” she murmured, weaving her voice in with theirs. “I have one favor yet to ask.”
The stars twinkled back at her. So long as it didn’t involve testing the patience of three very old, very crotchety powers, they were listening.
The moon pursed her lips, regret tugging at her heart in the shape of a young moonbeam who had gone dark far too soon. Could she risk another? The thought of despairing flame where fierce pride and freedom ought to have burned decided her. She would ask, but this time, she would ensure that all would be safe.
“I need to speak with the North Wind,” she said. Her stomach fluttered with the uneasy sensation of newly hatched starbursts taking flight for the very first time. “I need him to give a message to a girl.”
© 2015 by Danyelle Leafty. All rights reserved.
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