** Today on Dark Faerie Tales read an interview with Sarah Beth Durst and you could win a copy of Drink, Slay, Love **
Thanks to Tynga for inviting me to be here today. I was excited about the idea of doing a twisted fairy tale with a character from my debut YA/New Adult fantasy novel, Ward Against Death, until I realized it already is a twisted fairy tale. Waking the girl from her cursed sleep is Sleeping Beauty. Or, in my hero’s case waking the girl from the dead. And the twist: the heroine is nothing like a fairy tale princess and so much more happens after she wakes.
My hero, Ward, is a necromancer. He’d rather be a surgeon, but surgery is illegal in his world, and he’s already been expelled from the physician’s academy for digging up bodies to perform necropsies. Now the only career option he has is the family business, waking people from the dead so loved ones can say their final goodbyes, except when he wakes the heroine (aka Sleeping Beauty) he get so much more than he bargained for.
Ward was partly inspired by Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow, so for my twisted fairy tale I thought I’d pit Ward against the Headless Horseman and see how he does.
A piercing scream shattered the silence, enveloping the village. Ward jerked his gaze from the book he was searching, his heart pounding. The horseman had returned. There wasn’t any time left and he still hadn’t found the location of the horseman’s soul.
Through the window of the one-room temple lay the no-longer-sleepy village of a dozen houses. Same as last night, the townspeople were probably trembling within their shuttered and locked residences, terrified of the apparition outside and fearing they would be the next the fall victim to its hunger.
Fog billowed up the muddy street, tangled in low-hanging naked branches, and clung to thatching. The horseman’s wail came again, making the hair on the back of Ward’s neck stand up. A blast of cold autumn air swept through the fog, swirling it around and around, revealing the dark, mounted apparition. His massive horse trotted onto the bridge into town, its hooves clattered on the bricked crossing, shattering the silence. Proof it was all too real and all too deadly.
Ward shoved the book aside and threw opened the next one. The last one. There were no other records of where the horseman’s soul might be imprisoned. Generations ago, a black necromancer had terrorized these lands and while the necromancer had been stopped, his soul jars had never been found. One of those souls, the horseman, had found a way to free part of himself, and now wreaked vengeance every year on the five nights leading up to his murder.
Tonight was the last night. If Ward didn’t find the horseman’s soul jar now, free his entire spirit, and guide him across the veil into the eternal embrace of the Goddess, he’d have to wait another year and more people could die. He had to find that jar.
There, a handwritten note scrawled in the margin. The village had taken the black necromancer’s house and turned it into a temple, keeping the existing foundation and cleaning the evil from the cellar. Ward was right on top of the jars. Black necromancers kept a workshop where they performed their blood magic rituals and kept their soul jars. If they hadn’t been found, they had to be hidden in one of the walls. All he had to do was get outside to the cellar doors and—
With a thunderous boom, the doors to the temple burst open, cracking from their hinges and falling to the floor. Framed in the archway was the horseman and his rearing mount. The apparition’s black cloak shined with semi-congealed blood, and the wound at his neck was ragged as if it had taken multiple blows to decapitate him. His enormous horse snorted and eyed Ward with glowing red eyes.
The sword in the horseman’s free hand dripped blood that hissed and seared the floor where it fell. He swung it around over his head—or rather over where his head should have been—spraying droplets of blood into the temple. Blood spattered Ward’s clothes and face, stinging like acid. As the spatter hit the open page of the book, smoke curled from the parchment and it burst into flames.
Ward scrambled back. He needed to get into the cellar but the horseman blocked the only door. The window was his only other option. He raced toward it, but the horseman kicked his horse into the temple, slashing his sword between Ward and the window.
Flames leapt from the wooden floorboards, blocking the window. The horseman swung again, this time at Ward. Heart racing, Ward twisted, caught his heel on the edge of the table, and toppled backward. The sword whooshed over his head. A few seconds slower and he’d have been joining the horseman.
He shoved himself to his feet and lunged for the door, feeling the whoosh of the horseman’s blade at his back. The horse’s hooves pounded on the floorboards and another ear piercing scream roared behind Ward. He didn’t look back. He certainly didn’t want to see that thing coming after him.
He raced around to the back of the temple with the horseman pounding after him. There, the cellar door, almost level with the ground and partially hidden by the straggled remains of an autumn-naked bush. Ward grabbed the handle. Out of the corner of his eyes, he caught the flash of movement, a shadow in the fog. He jerked aside.
The horse’s hooves crashed into the cellar door, shattering the wood, opening the way. Ward ducked inside. The cellar was dark, only a hint of light coming from a small window by the ceiling at the back of the room. Whips of smoke from the fire above danced along the ceiling and ghostly cobwebs draped from the half dozen shelves cluttered in the space.
Behind him, the horseman leapt from his horse and lumbered down the steps. Ward ran between the shelves, the cobwebs catching on his face and hands. He’d hoped the soul jars’ location would be obvious—although now that he thought about it, if they hadn’t been found in generations, their hiding place wasn’t easily noticeable. Just a few minutes more and he was sure he’d figure out behind which wall the black necromancer had hidden them.
The horseman yanked the closest shelf out of the way, tossing it onto the one beside it and toppling them both over. He swung, but Ward ducked. The bloody blade cut into the wall and when the horseman jerked it free, part of the stone flew out with it.
Ward rushed behind another shelf, a plan starting to take shape. The soul jars had to be in the walls somewhere. What better way to find them then get the horseman to reveal them—if, of course, Ward could manage to keep dodging the horseman’s blade.
The horseman swung again and again. Ward twisted and scrambled. Stone flew around him and slid from the walls, but still no secret shelf filled with soul jars. Ward was running out of breath and the cellar was running out of walls. What if he’d been wrong about the soul jars’ location?
With a growl, the horseman lunged. Ward wrenched out of the way and the blade pierced the wall. Finally, as the last stone cracked and fell away, Ward saw a hidden shelf containing half a dozen clay jars. But only one was cracked, just a sliver, enough to allow a part of an angry soul free. That had to be the horseman’s.
Ward grabbed it and smashed it against the ground. The horseman screamed and staggered back, black smoke enveloped him, gathering around his ruined neck, forming into a head. Seizing a broken shard of crockery, Ward sliced open his hand and pressed his palms together. With the magic in his blood, he called upon his Goddess for grace, Her Light Son for knowledge, and Her Dark Son for strength.
The horseman jerked, the blood from his blade splattering Ward, stinging his face and hands. He ground his teeth against the pain. He needed to concentrate. Even blind to the magic surrounding him, he had enough power within him to open the veil and release the horseman from his earthbound imprisonment. He focused on ripping open the veil between worlds, imagined it cracking open. The horseman screamed again, and dissolved into thick black smoke. Ward was doing it! Just a little longer.
The smoke whirled into a tight vortex, tossing dust and stone fragments around the room. Ward squinted against the storm. He had to see this through, had to ensure the horseman’s spirit was finally at rest. Concentrate. Keep the veil open long enough fore the magic to work. And then, with a ferocious wind that momentarily sucked the air from the cellar, the vortex and the horseman disappeared.
Ward sagged against the wall beside the hidden shelf, his palm burning from the cut, his face stinging from the horseman’s fiery blood. But it was done. The horseman had passed over and wouldn’t terrorize the village anymore. It, however, wasn’t finished. Once Ward caught his breath, he’d release the rest of the souls trapped so they, too, could find eternal rest. The job of a necromancer was never done.
Twenty-year-old Ward de’Ath expected this to be a simple job—bring a nobleman’s daughter back from the dead for fifteen minutes, let her family say good-bye, and launch his fledgling career as a necromancer. Goddess knows he can’t be a surgeon—the Quayestri already branded him a criminal for trying—so bringing people back from the dead it is.
But when Ward wakes the beautiful Celia Carlyle, he gets more than he bargained for. Insistent that she’s been murdered, Celia begs Ward to keep her alive and help her find justice. By the time she drags him out her bedroom window and into the sewers, Ward can’t bring himself to break his damned physician’s Oath and desert her.
However, nothing is as it seems—including Celia. One second, she’s treating Ward like sewage, the next she’s kissing him. And for a nobleman’s daughter, she sure has a lot of enemies. If he could just convince his heart to give up on the infuriating beauty, he might get out of this alive…
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Ends September 7th, 2011.
I have always been drawn to story telling. In fact, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t telling a story in my head or on paper. In grade school, we had journal writing time which I turned into story telling time, weaving tales of magic and adventure that mimicked the fairy tales and myths that I loved to read. It was there, with the help of two very special teachers, that I nurtured this love and started my journey as a writer.
I write fantasy, paranormal romance, and everything in between, seasoned with a good dash of adventure and mystery. Join me on my tales of magic, adventure, and romance.