Elflandby Freda Warrington
Coming-of-age fantasy, set in the real world, and in the world of Faerie from where the Aetherials come. Sexy, realistic, full of conflict and consequence. Something that can be read by fantasy readers, and also by romance readers.See more details below
Coming-of-age fantasy, set in the real world, and in the world of Faerie from where the Aetherials come. Sexy, realistic, full of conflict and consequence. Something that can be read by fantasy readers, and also by romance readers.
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By Freda Warrington, James Frenkel
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2009 Freda Warrington
All rights reserved.
The House of Broken Dreams
On Rosie's ninth birthday, her father gave her the most beautiful item she had ever seen; a sparkling crystal heart that had captivated her in a jeweler's window. It wasn't her nature to demand things, but her parents had remembered. When she opened her present, there was the wonderful pendant, blazing on black velvet.
She wore it proudly on a sturdy silver chain. It was too dressy with her blue T-shirt and jeans, but she didn't care. Its hard little angles bounced on her chest as she ran, playing football with her brothers.
It was a warm and gleaming spring day. The lush greens of their garden formed enveloping caverns, drawing them from the main lawn to smaller bowers, through the rose garden, the herb garden, to the wild places where their property blended into the borders; into huge oaks and sprawling hawthorn hedges. They abandoned the ball. Matthew led the way through a gap in the hedge to the woodland paths beyond.
A stream snaked its way past their garden. They knew full well they were supposed to stay on this side. Matthew, however, led the way across stepping-stones and began to climb.
Hearts pounding, Rosie and Lucas followed.
Matt was fourteen and always took the lead. He was bursting with energy, climbing fast through the steepest part of the woods so that they could barely keep up. Lately, Rosie noticed, he'd become restless and resentful, too old to play with his younger siblings but still constrained to watching out for them. Lucas, two years younger than Rosie, was their shadow.
At nine, everything was eternally new to her. Eons stretched between one adventure and the next. There were always new twists in the paths, rocks she'd never seen before, amazing patterns in the trunks of silver birches.
Although the Dusklands manifested most strongly in twilight, on intense days like this she could see the deeper reality shimmering like a heat haze over the surface world. The eyes of elementals peered from between the leaves, vanishing if she tried to look straight at them. She could feel Aetheric energies brushing her skin, tingling like nettles. Knowing she was part of it — able to enter this subtle dimension as ordinary children could not — thrilled her.
She and Lucas shared the experience without words. They'd learned not to discuss it in front of Matthew, who only growled and called it foolish.
Rosie came to the foot of a squat, majestic oak that spread a gleaming canopy over her. Instinctively she began to climb, her breath fast with exertion.
"Rosie!" came Matthew's voice. "Get down, before you break your neck!"
His voice was distant; she slipped all the way into the Dusklands without thinking, entranced by the landscape turning bluish, mysterious and full of rainbow gleams. Leafy elementals snaked around the tree limbs, smiling at her as she smiled back ...
"Rosie!" The voice was loud and angry. The next she knew, Matthew was grabbing her off a branch in a shower of twigs and leaves and setting her on the ground. "How many times have I told you not to do that? It's not safe!"
"Get off!" she retorted, shaken and indignant. "I wasn't doing anything wrong."
He pushed back his fair hair, glaring at her until the blue fire of his eyes softened. "Look, as long as I'm in charge of you, you'll behave," he said firmly. "Follow me, and don't wander off."
Grumbling, she obeyed. Above the tree line, they waded through knee-high bracken, coming out onto heathland high above the village. Rosie and Lucas were gasping for breath. It was wrong to trespass, they knew, but a guilty pleasure. Even Matthew had never dared come this far before.
He climbed a spar of ancient rock and posed there. Massed clouds created an eerie light in which the greens of spring turned luminous against an iron-grey sky. From here they commanded a spectacular view across Cloudcroft and the Charnwood hills. Their own house, Oakholme, nestled below them, broad and friendly with cream-washed walls and black beams. The scattered thatch and slate roofs of the village were visible through a sea of budding oak, ash and birch, strung along the meandering length of a valley.
On the opposite side of the valley, green farmland gave way to the stark hills of High Warrens, wild with rocks as ancient as the Aetherial race itself. Beyond stood Charnwood's main peaks; Beacon Hill, Bardon Hill grey with distance, Old John with its stone beer-tankard folly. Dark green pine forests spilled into the folds beneath, mixed with softer woodland and hedgerows.
On this side, the hilltop behind them was bleak. The grass was wiry, the soil fragrant with peat. Clusters of rock thrust out of the ground, wreathed in bracken. On the long, rugged backbone of the summit, there stood a house. It was built of granite and looked like a fortress. The roof was black slate. Behind it, rain clouds massed angrily.
"Is that Stonegate Manor?" Rosie said, startled. She'd only ever glimpsed the house from the road. It looked different from this angle.
"Of course it is, idiot," said Matthew. "It's where the Wilders live. The neighbors Mum and Dad talk about in whispers."
"Isn't it weird that we never see them?" she said, suddenly consumed by a sense of mystery.
"I have," Matthew said loftily. "A few times, swishing around in massive cars. The father's abroad a lot."
"How d'you know?" said Lucas.
Matthew shrugged. "I know everything."
Rosie studied the Manor, shivering to think of it standing empty, haunted. "Are they like us? Old blood?"
"So Dad says." Matthew looked at the sky. "It's going to piss down. Let's go back."
He jumped off his rock, hitting the ground with a flat-footed thud. Rosie and Lucas struggled to keep up with his long strides. She grabbed her little brother's hand and pulled him along. "Matthew! Wait for us!"
Suddenly he was out of sight and the footpath was unclear. There were vague tracks forking through the bracken, some young birch trees in front, more rocks to their right. She started to feel nervous. Which way had he gone?
Don't cross the stream, she heard her father saying. Our neighbors are very private and it may not be safe.
Two shadows appeared, drifting towards her through the birches. They seemed to come in slow motion. Rosie was paralyzed. Two skinny figures in dark clothes, with bright hair blowing behind them. At first she thought they were ghosts or elementals from the Dusklands, menacing; then — she didn't know.
Lucas clung tight to her hand. The figures came on, confident, threatening. Two boys. One was close to her age but the other looked as old as Matthew, a lithe teenager with a harsh face and bright sea- green eyes.
"Where d'you think you're going?" said the older one. The smile that played on his face chilled her. Mocking, probing.
"Nowhere. Home," said Rosie.
"You're on our father's land, you know," said the younger boy, in a precise tone. He hung back, not glaring at her as the older boy did. His eyes were brown, his face softer, more aloof than aggressive.
"Yes, you're trespassing," said the green-eyed one. "You want to know what we do to trespassers on the Wilder estate?"
Rosie pushed Lucas behind her. "No," she said, trying to sound brave. "We don't mean any harm. We got lost."
"That was careless. There's a price to pay." The cold eyes glinted with cruelty and she knew a terrifying game was being played that could only end in pain and humiliation. The boy slipped a fingertip under her beloved new pendant. Tears of rage oozed onto her lashes, but she daren't breathe or speak. "This is nice," he purred.
"HEY!" The shout came from a few yards away. Matthew appeared over the shoulder of the hill near the rocks. He came charging at them like an enraged ram and his voice was as gruff as a man's. "You get away from them!"
The taller boy legged it. He barged past Rosie and as he went, he grabbed the silver chain and jerked it so hard it burned into her neck as it broke. She yelled in pain. He was gone, running madly along the slope of the heath with her precious crystal heart in his hand. She heard his mocking laughter.
Through her tears, Rosie saw her brother come rushing up and knock the younger boy onto his backside. "You little shit!" he yelled. Then, after the thief, "You! I'll get you for this!"
The answer came as a fading echo. "You and whose fucking army?"
The younger boy staggered to his feet. For a moment, he caught Rosie's eye and something passed between them like a physical shock. Recognition, unspoken apology? He coughed, so shocked by Matthew's violence that Rosie felt sorry for him. He started to back quickly away, saying, "You don't want to upset my brother. He'll kill you."
Matthew laughed out loud. The boy turned and fled after the older one, who'd circled up the hill to wait for him. Rosie heard her attacker growl "Jon!" as he caught the smaller one by the shoulders; then both boys stood for a moment like a pair of wraiths, coats flapping, so eerily hostile that even Matthew lost the nerve to pursue them.
He put his arm around Rosie and pulled her away. "Wankers," he growled.
"He took my pendant," was all she could say through her sobs.
"Come on, let's get you home."
The way back seemed endless, drizzle turning the paths to glass. When Rosie's tears subsided, Matthew said, "Don't tell Mum and Dad."
"Why not?" said Lucas.
"Because we shouldn't have been up there. If Dad finds out, he'll go mental."
Rosie felt aggrieved with Matthew for leading them into danger; but she'd known, and joined in with the adventure regardless. "Who are those awful boys, anyway?"
"Samuel and Jonathan Wilder. The young one is Jon. The thieving bully is Sam."
"Do you know them?"
"No, but I've heard stuff. They go to some posh boarding school miles away. They say the older one's off his head. He's always in trouble."
Rosie shivered. Her neck was sore. She touched the place and felt a raw weal. She licked her fingertips and tasted blood. "Mum's going to notice."
"Put a polo neck on. Tell her the heart's safe in your jewelry box."
She struggled not to cry again. It was true, she couldn't possibly admit she'd lost the heart through being plainly disobedient.
"Why don't they go to our school?" Lucas asked.
"'Why, why, why?'" Matthew parroted. "The Wilders are so high-and-mighty that they look down on everyone else, human or old blood alike. They're massive snobs. Dad hates that sort of thing."
Rosie thought of how they'd come drifting through the trees, two menacing specters. "Dad's not scared of them, is he?" She shook her head vigorously, thinking of her father's broad frame, his strength. "No, he's not frightened of anything."
"Look." Matthew turned and gripped her shoulders. "We cannot tell Dad about this because he's going to blame me. Anyway, all Mr. Wilder would do is deny his sons are thieves. There's no way you'd get your necklace back."
"I know," she said miserably.
"So we have to sort it out ourselves. I'll get it for you. Next time I see Sam, I'm going to beat the living crap out of him."
"What?" Rosie's stomach turned cold. A resolute anger rose in her. "No, you mustn't! I'll get it back myself."
"I'll sneak into Stonegate Manor and find it. Lucas will go with me, won't you?"
He nodded eagerly, but Matthew looked furious. "No way. That's the most stupid idea I've ever heard."
"You're scared," Rosie taunted, roused enough to defy him.
"I'm not scared of the stupid Wilders!" Matthew paused and stuck his hands in his jeans pockets. "All right. But there's no way you're going in without me, Rosie."
"And you're not going without me," she retorted, folding her arms. "Three musketeers?"
Matthew looked back at the rugged shoulder of the hill. The house was a bare grey shadow in the mist. "Two and a half musketeers," he said. "Okay. Tomorrow."
In those days, they did everything together. However burdensome Matthew found his younger siblings, he needed an army to lead, an admiring audience.
The next morning brought the sun pouring golden into their garden. Rosie hadn't slept, and bitterly resented the Wilder boys for ruining what should have been an idyllic day. Yet she was madly excited. Nothing now would stop them entering the forbidden realm, Stonegate Manor.
As they trod the paths through the woods, Rosie couldn't sense the Dusklands. The world was plainly three-dimensional, closed and solid. She kept thinking about the younger boy, Jonathan. She'd never seen anyone like him before. He'd been so pretty, like a cupid in a painting. She wondered what he'd meant when he looked at her. That he was sorry about his older brother's behavior? That he secretly wanted to be friends? Would they meet him again in the house? Would they meet Sam?
The thought spun her into knots of terror. The theft — although devastating — was only a symptom of the jeering malevolence she'd sensed when Sam had slid a cold fingertip onto her breastbone, to sever her from a beloved gift. As they climbed the hill, the sunlight wavered. Mist hung up here as if rolling from the house itself, turning every rock and tree into a ghost. Stonegate Manor loomed like a fortress with prison windows. She imagined hostile eyes watching, crossbows or rifles trained on the intruders.
At nine, she suspected that she knew very little about Aetherials. Her mind latched on to the idea that the Wilders were rarefied Aetheric lords, glaring icily down upon their subjects. A family of unearthly aristocrats, dwelling in a castle, so forbidding that even her father dared not approach them.
Around the rear of the house lay an informal garden with broad lawns, rhododendron bushes spilling over natural rock. There was no fence. She wished with all her might to turn into a fox — her namesake, an earth elemental — so that she could sneak into the house fearless and unseen; but it was only a wish.
A dog barked. Matthew grabbed her and Lucas by the arm, pressing them back into a waxy-leaved rhododendron. "If there's a guard dog, we can't do it," he whispered. Rosie saw he was anxious, and that unnerved her completely. Looking up at the heavy slate and granite bulk of the house, she felt overwhelmed.
No dogs appeared. When the bark came again, it sounded far away. A lawn lay silver-green between them and their destination. There were French windows in the center of the building and, near the left- hand corner, a back door.
"This is it," said Matthew. "Crouch down and run. Now!"
They sprinted across the uneven grass, skirting rocks, finally slamming into the stone wall of the fortress. Rosie couldn't get her breath, and her mouth was dry, sticky.
No one saw them. The place felt desolate. Only the house itself kept watch.
She'd imagined Matthew prizing open a window or breaking glass, but the door was unlocked. He pushed it open and they all walked in; as easy as that.
As they entered, she had the tangible feeling of crossing a threshold into a different realm. Everything felt cold and sharp. The sensation was so strong it made her dizzy. Behind her, Lucas kept treading on her heels. They entered a narrow hall with coats and boots; then a kitchen with old-fashioned units and a big oblong sink. Rosie was shocked at how shabby it looked compared with their warm and friendly kitchen at home. Leading from the kitchen was a corridor with stone walls and a bare lightbulb. They crept along the wall, as if that could make them magically invisible.
The corridor brought them into a great baronial hall, a frigid space so cavernous that they stopped in awe. Anxiously they scanned the galleries for hostile eyes. There was dark wood, grey stone, a huge dusty fireplace with crests carved above it, chilly daylight winking through leaded windows. Her hopes fell; they'd never find her treasure in this vast place.
"Where now?" she whispered.
Matthew answered at the top of his voice, "No need to whisper. There's no one home."
"Shush!" she gasped, horrified. "How do you know?"
"Can't you feel it? There'd be music or the TV on, or people talking. Nothing."
His voice echoed. "Shut up!" she hissed. "It'll be in his bedroom. That's where I'd hide it."
"Stairs," said Lucas, pointing.
The broad wooden flight creaked under them. Rosie felt the frosty whisper of the hostile realm all around them, like the Dusklands but cruel and cold. From the corner of her eye she saw a four-legged shadow pacing beside them; the impression was so clear that she turned in shock to look — and saw nothing there.
"What was that?" whispered Matthew, his bravado vanishing.
Upstairs, the house seemed all corridors, all arctic light on stone walls. How would they ever find the thief's bedroom? They'd be trapped here until they died. This was a terrible house and it hated them.
They turned a corner into another passage stretching to infinity before them. Rosie's dread of meeting Sam here became agonizing. The fear was out of all proportion, as if they might meet some horrifying spectral essence rather than an actual person. Again she glimpsed the half-seen shadow beasts around them. Lucas grabbed her hand. His was icy.
"Oh, shit," Matthew gasped, sounding completely terrified. "I don't like this. We have to get out."
Excerpted from Elfland by Freda Warrington, James Frenkel. Copyright © 2009 Freda Warrington. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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