Magic forms both feast and famine…
Carin has never known hunger. Born into the Hearthland, a lush world of fertile fields and abundant resources, her biggest worry is whether she and her three friends will find their true names on their Journeying. But when one of them is murdered on the morning of their departure, Carin’s peaceful world is stained with blood.
As they travel north, Carin and her friends discover a horrible truth: their land’s bounty is no mystery. An ancient spell cast by their ancestors is draining the very life force from the lands across the northern mountains, withering the earth and starving its people.
Forced to confront the truth, Carin must decide her own fate. Remain silent and allow the murder of the earth itself—or risk her own life in exile and break the spell.
The hearths of home have only ever nourished. Now the Hearthland will see just how hot fire can burn.
All choices have consequences.
About the Author
Emmie makes their home on planet Earth, and more specifically in Glasgow, Scotland. They live with their partner and two rescued kitties who call Emmie and John a forever home.
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There was something, Carin always thought, in the way Dyava's skin caught the sunlight. The whole of him soaked it up as if he could make magic of it. Light revealed, darkness concealed, and with the rays that fell upon his face, Carin saw only love.
"If you keep staring at me," he said, "I might turn to dust before sunset."
"If I don't keep staring at you, how do you expect me to still remember your face when I return?" Carin teased. "High Lights is some time away."
Her tone was much lighter than her heart felt, but Dyava knew her, and she knew him, and neither of them would give way to the weight of tomorrow when today was here now.
His eyes, warm and brown, twinkled as he smiled at her. Dyava reached out to take Carin's hand, kissing it. His long black hair tickled the side of her arm. He even smelled like sunshine.
For a moment, Carin allowed herself the thrill of it and the wicked moment of remembering the youth Dyava had been only one cycle past. Dav, he had been. Before he set out on the same Journeying she herself was about to, returning to Haveranth new-named. Dyava. Her Dyava.
Carin caught his hand in hers and turned it over, kissing his even as he'd kissed hers. "I saw Jenin heading toward Lyah's roundhome," she said. "They'll be together these next moons and still they steal moments today."
"You're jealous," Dyava said. He pulled Carin close to his chest. "I suppose there's no hope for it. I'll have to join you lot."
Carin let out a laugh that was almost a snort, even though her heart soared suddenly at the idea of Dyava by her side for the Journeying. "Merin would have you trussed to the village hearth-home, possibly on a spit."
The silence that followed threatened to sink lower. Carin pulled back to look at Dyava. His face was quiet, with the stillness of a forest pool. As if he was suddenly miles away. Carin thought she knew what he was thinking. Jenin and Lyah had been inseparable since they had all been hysmern, children with no appellation of their own. Carin had not understood it, then, though as Dyava's Journeying had approached the cycle before, she had found herself dreading his absence. When he returned days before High Lights, thinner and quieter and stronger, Carin had known nothing like the relief she felt. She had struggled to catch even a glimpse of him for the days that followed, until the sun claimed its longest day and the village toiled under its heat and that night, oh, that night. Exhausted and aching as always, Carin had taken her cup of ashes and turned at the sound of Dyava's soft voice addressing her.
"I failed you, Carin," he had said. "In all those moons walking, each step reminded me that I had forgotten to make something clear between us. I hope you will forgive me."
"Forgive what?" Carin's hands had nearly dropped her cup.
"Simply that I care for you," said Dyava. "More than simply for a friend. I should have told you sooner."
Carin had dipped her whole hand into her cup, covering her palm with ashes that stung her skin. Without speaking, she placed her splayed hand over Dyava's heart and met his eyes. The next morning, with the whole of the village nude and covered in the ashes of forgiven wrongs, Dyava and Carin leapt into the Bemin River together, the cold-flowing water reviving them anew. Carin thought that until that moment she had never been alive at all.
Now, no ashes coated her palm or Dyava's tunic-clothed chest, but she looked him in the eye and knew he remembered.
And, true to Dyava, he smiled, kissed her, and changed the subject. "Once you return, we will have to prepare for the High Harvest."
Any other person would simply mean preparations for the feasts, the dancing, the festival in which villagers from Cantoranth and Bemin's Fan would arrive and set up colorful tents surrounding the whole of Haveranth for the whole waxing and waning of Harvest Moon. This time, though, Carin knew what he meant.
"I'm not sure I can think about that yet," she said, "or if I will truly do it."
Carin had chosen her appellation at her fifteenth cycle, like everyone did. But for some time it had not set well for her. She had gone from being child to woman, just as Lyah had, but now, two cycles past and on the verge of true adulthood, Carin could not be sure that she had been true to herself. High Harvest would be the time to make it right.
At her trailing silence, Dyava seemed to come back to himself, pulled her closer. "Sometimes people need to leave something behind to do what is right. Be you," was all he said.
He did not use her name, and in that moment, Carin loved him for it. Tomorrow she would go search for the name her village would know as her true name forever, but today she was trapped in now. Carin el Rina ve Haveranth. Was that who she was?
In the warmth of the arms around her, she had no need of a name at all.
The sun sank toward the horizon, and after a time, Carin bade Dyava a bountiful night, knowing he went to his parents. Jenin's parents, too. Dyava and Jenin were sahthren, born of the same blood a cycle apart.
Dyava gave Carin no lingering goodbye, only a flash of a grin as he turned back toward Haveranth, leaving Carin to slowly turn back herself.CHAPTER 2
Ryd AL Malcam va Haveranth hated being sat on.
It may have been one of the unfortunate effects of being smaller than everyone else, but the other village children seemed to think it was a fine past time. Never mind that he was due for his Journeying and only two harvests away from being a full adult. Never mind that the rumps pressing into various parts of his body belonged to squeaks ten harvests his junior. Never mind that even the grown folk in town found it amusing.
He struggled against the weight of six bodies — a Giggling whump of new pressure made it seven — pinning him to the lush blue grasses.
"Geroff!" he hollered.
No one listened. They never did.
Ryd looked overhead through the wiggly cluster of sweaty children, catching glimpses of the bone-white halm tree's trunk. Against the blue of the sky, the halm was dotted with deep red buds that would soon open to the sun. A knee punched into Ryd's side, bony and probably covered in dirt.
This is it, Ryd thought. This is how I die.
A startled squawk from one of the children cut through their giggles, and suddenly the weight of seven squirmy bodies vanished. Ryd gulped a breath of the warm spring air, scrambling to a sitting position just in time to see the kids — carpenter Stil's brat wouldn't even pay for hys idea of a joke at home later — scamper off into the town square. None of those squeaks had even reached the age to declare their appellation, and no one cared that Ryd was on the cusp of becoming full-fledged adult, with a place and a name and a purpose.
"You're welcome." A whoosh of air brought Carin's muscular frame down hard in the grass beside him. She plopped an apple into his lap, its skin redder than the halm's leaves and as shiny as the sun on the Bemin River.
"You don't always have to rescue me, you know," Ryd said. The words came out more cross than he meant them to, and Carin sniffed.
"You're right. I don't. Want me to call them back?"
He shook his head. In spite of her joking, Carin had the look in her eyes that said she had just come from Dyava. Half dreaming, half present. Even half present for Carin was enough to send the village hysmern scrambling away from their usual hobby of sitting on Ryd, though. Ryd thought he should resent that they fled her presence and laughed at his, but he couldn't.
Ryd took a bite of the apple, licking the juice from the skin where it seeped out around his lip. It danced on his tongue with a slight tartness that quickly vanished into the silken sweetness of candy or syrup. They were called Early Birds because the trees that bore them flowered with the first frost and offered their slow-growing fruits just as the spring's daffodils opened their golden trumpets. This was the first Ryd had eaten this season, and perhaps the last before the Journeying. The thought soured his next bite.
"You're thinking about it, aren't you?" Carin's voice was quiet, punctuated only by the ringing of the blacksmith's hammer on an anvil across the square. The rest of the village had gone silent in meditation for what would come on the morrow, but apparently the children had decided sitting on Ryd escaped the cause for solemnity.
"How can I think of anything else?"
Carin didn't answer, but she took a crunching bite of her own apple. A trill rose from the halm tree. A whitfinch with its trr-dee-trr-dee-dee-dee.
Carin pointed past the town square where the road rose toward the foothills. The hills themselves wore the deep blue of spring, blazing bright in the yellow sun. The road curved around Kinnock's Rise and vanished, but Ryd could have drawn the map of the route under the darkness of the Veiled Moon with the stars hiding their faces from the night.
"Speak for yourself," Carin said softly, letting her hand drop. They sat with their bodies touching in easy friendship, but somehow Carin was leagues away.
Ryd still looked where she had gestured.
Past Kinnock's Rise to Haver's Glen. Up the cleft of the glen along the banks of the Bemin to its source, a high and shining lake known simply as the Jewel. Skirt the shores of the Jewel to the west and climb, climb, climb the Mistaken Pass to the Hidden Vale where the Hanging Falls floated, dripping crystalline drops hundreds of feet to water the grasses beneath. Beyond the falls, on the westernmost slopes of the vale, was a cave.
It was to that cave he was supposed to journey tomorrow. Not just a journey. The Journeying. To seal his passage into adulthood. To mark his growth. To find his name.
By harvest time, he and Carin and the others would be starting their trades, new-named and ready to prove themselves to the village. Not quite full villagers, not until their twentieth harvests, but closer. Named. Respected.
Ryd linked his elbow with Carin's, and together they looked into the west.
When he found his name, he wouldn't let anyone sit on him again.CHAPTER 3
On the banks of the Bemin, far from the sun-warmed grasses overlooking Haveranth's surrounding hillocks, Lyah el Jemil ve Haveranth wove her fingers through her lover's hair. Jenin's dark locks flowed over Lyah's lap, lustrous and shining in the light of the setting sun.
"Suo vo dyu, dyu vo suo," Lyah murmured. Light from darkness, darkness from light.
"Spoken like a true soothsayer." Jenin teased, but hys eyes lit with pride. Lyah had been apprenticed to Merin, Haveranth's soothsayer, at the last Night of Reflection — a celebration of her reaching her seventeenth harvest and the coming of her Journeying with the following spring. She'd known for some time that Merin would take her as an apprentice, but it was finally official. Lyah would one day be soothsayer. As such, she'd taken to learning the lore of the village and found herself uttering proverbs even when she didn't mean to. As the first apprentice Merin had chosen in her three hundred cycles of long life, Jenin couldn't often disguise the pride sy felt at Lyah being the one chosen.
And Jenin's pride in her made Lyah glow like the backlit maha trees that dotted the horizon, their leaves glowing deep blue with the gold of the sun behind them. Jenin went still beneath Lyah's gentle touch on hys hair.
"Tomorrow," sy said after a long pause.
Tomorrow was the Journeying. Lyah tried to disguise the skip in her heart that came with the thought of being off with Jenin for turns on end as they traveled. Of course, Carin and Ryd would also be there, but that wouldn't stop Lyah's excitement. Carin and Lyah were fyahiul, pillow-friends, practically family without sharing blood. Ryd would tag along, as he always did. Like a bug clinging to a falling leaf. Both Carin and Ryd seemed apprehensive about the Journeying, their thoughts rotting with the fear that they wouldn't find their names and would be cast out of Haveranth as Nameless, but Lyah had no fear on that score. Nor had Jenin, but the tension in hys shoulders, even as Lyah ran her fingers through hys hair, told Lyah that perhaps something had shifted.
Jenin's chin was stubbled with whiskers, and sy turned to lay hys head on Lyah's knee, the roughness of hys chin through the thin fabric of her leggings sending a tingle of excitement through her. Jenin fell silent, hys posture tensing as sy lay across Lyah's lap. A question hovered in hys eyes, but sy didn't speak. Instead, Jenin's dark eyes searched hers. For the space of a breath, it looked to Lyah as if Jenin's eyes bore the weight of a thousand mountains, quashing their dark warmth with nothingness. After a moment, sy blinked and smiled and reached out hys hand to touch Lyah's face.
"Why do we have to go on the Journeying?" sy asked.
"To find our names and join the village as adults," Lyah responded automatically.
"The Journeying proves us worthy to join the village. It's arduous but necessary."
Jenin broke eye contact, hys gaze focused on Lyah's midsection. Not in the way Lyah hoped; there was no lasciviousness in Jenin's face, only a quiet vulnerability that made the tingles of excitement in Lyah's stomach turn sour.
"Jenin?" Lyah placed her hand on Jenin's chest, her fingers seeking out the solidity of Jenin's flat planes and strong muscles that came from hys toil in the fields. For all sy came from the same womb as Dyava, Jenin could turn serious with the changing of the wind.
"I have to tell you something," sy said. Hys eyes darted to the skyline of the village, the low curved roofs of the roundhomes clustered at its center. A breeze ruffled Lyah's hair, pulling long strands from her hasty plait that stuck to her lips.
The sour nervousness in her stomach grew, like fermented plum juice gone past enjoyment. This was not what was supposed to happen on the eve of the Journeying. "Jenin," she began, putting all the love she could into the speaking of hys name, only to have it die on her lips as she remembered that sy would only shortly bear it, that the name she'd come so accustomed to speaking in love would be eschewed for a new one. Now Jenin yl Tarwyn vy Haveranth — then who? Who would Jenin be in three moons' time?
Jenin scrambled to hys knees and took hold of Lyah's shoulders, sensing her discomfort. "It's not about us, fruit of my heart. It's more than us. More than the Journeying."
Alarmed, Lyah felt her breath come faster into her chest, even as the breeze rose to become well and truly wind around them. "What is it?"
"I can't say yet." That weight returned to hys gaze.
"Then why say something now?" Lyah's tongue felt dry like the clay that caked her mother's worktable.
Jenin's hands tightened on her shoulders. "I ought to have kept quiet. I've not spoken of this to anyone, but I've learned things and —"
The bell tolled in the village, one loud, reverberating note that spread out through the fields and hills around Haveranth. Sure enough, the sun had dipped below the horizon to the west, its rays following the Bemin to the sea where it bid farewell to the folk of Bemin's Fan before sleeping in darkness for the night. To the east was Cantoranth, where only the slightest haze of smoke betrayed the presence of their neighbor-village. Strange that this cycle no one would join them from Bemin's Fan or Cantoranth for the Journeying; no others came of age. There were whispers in town that fewer folk had been born in recent cycles, that two thousand cycles back the Journeying had brought as many as a score of young folk searching for their names. Now there were only four, all from Haveranth.
For the first time a true vine of fear spread through Lyah's core, writhing like a worm at the center of an apple. Someone called out from the village, and Jenin, whatever sy'd been about to say lost, rose to stand, pulling Lyah to her feet.
"One day," sy said. "One day, I'll be able to explain to you. Don't worry on it."
Lyah felt that spoiled pit in her stomach grow heavier and sourer. "Jenin," she said.
"Ahsh," sy said, hushing her. "Remember one thing for me."
"There is always the choice. As children, we choose the things we love and the village nurtures them. As youths we find ourselves and declare our appellation to our families, man or woman or hyrsin, declaring not just who we are but who we will become. As adults there will be the choice as well. I've made mine. Lu dyu, pah, artus lu suo dyosu suon."
Sy smiled as if to say sy could quote proverbs too, but it didn't reach hys eyes.
"I choose you," Lyah said, her voice full of a vehemence she didn't know she possessed.
"And I will never be far from you," said Jenin, kissing Lyah's lips with softness like down. Sy left Lyah on the banks of the Bemin, the rushing of the water over its time-smoothed stones not full enough to make the proverb Jenin'd spoken less hollow.
In darkness, birth. Light reveals all for good or ill.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Hearthfire"
Copyright © 2018 Emmie Mears.
Excerpted by permission of BHC Press.
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