Six months after the end of Wintersong, Liesl is working toward furthering both her brother’s and her own musical careers. Although she is determined to look forward and not behind, life in the world above is not as easy as Liesl had hoped. Her younger brother Josef is cold, distant, and withdrawn, while Liesl can’t forget the austere young man she left beneath the earth, and the music he inspired in her.
When troubling signs arise that the barrier between worlds is crumbling, Liesl must return to the Underground to unravel the mystery of life, death, and the Goblin Kingwho he was, who he is, and who he will be. What will it take to break the old laws once and for all? What is the true meaning of sacrifice when the fate of the worldor the ones Liesl lovesis in her hands?
“A maze of beauty and darkness, of music and magic and glittering things, all tied together with exquisite writing. This is a world you will want to stay lost in.”Marie Lu, #1 New York Timesbestselling author
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
PART I EVER THINE
I can only live, either altogether with you or not at all.
—Ludwig Van Beethoven, the Immortal Beloved letters
"Absolutely not," Constanze said, thumping the floor with her cane. "I forbid it!"
We were all gathered in the kitchens after supper. Mother was washing up after the guests while Käthe threw together a quick meal of spätzle and fried onions for the rest of us. Josef's letter lay open and face up on the table, the source of my salvation and my grandmother's strife.
Master Antonius is dead. I am in Vienna. Come quickly.
Come quickly. My brother's words lay stark and simple on the page, but neither Constanze nor I could agree upon their meaning. I believed it was a summons. My grandmother believed otherwise.
"Forbid what?" I retorted. "Replying to Josef?"
"Indulging your brother in this nonsense!" Constanze pointed an accusing, emphatic finger at the letter on the table between us before sweeping her arm in a wild, vague gesture toward the dark outside, the unknown beyond our doorstep. "This ... this musical folly!"
"Nonsense?" Mother asked sharply, pausing in scrubbing out the pots and pans. "What nonsense, Constanze? His career, you mean?"
Last year, my brother left behind the world he had known to follow his dreams — our dreams — of becoming a world-class violinist. While running the inn had been our family's bread and butter for generations, music had ever and always been our manna. Papa was once a court musician in Salzburg, where he met Mother, who was then a singer in a troupe. But that had been before Papa's profligate and prodigal ways chased him back to the backwoods of Bavaria. Josef was the best and brightest of us, the most educated, the most disciplined, the most talented, and he had done what the rest of us had not or could not: he had escaped.
"None of your business," Constanze snapped at her daughter-in-law. "Keep that sharp, shrewish nose out of matters about which you know nothing."
"It is too my business." Mother's nostrils flared. Cool, calm, and collected had ever been her way, but our grandmother knew how best to get under her skin. "Josef is my son."
"He is Der Erlkönig's own," Constanze muttered, her dark eyes alight with feverish faith. "And none of yours."
Mother rolled her eyes and resumed the washing up. "Enough with the goblins and gobbledygook, you old hag. Josef is too old for fairy tales and hokum."
"Tell that to that one!" Constanze leveled her gnarled finger at me, and I felt the force of her fervor like a bolt to the chest. "She believes. She knows. She carries the imprint of the Goblin King's touch upon her soul."
A frisson of unease skittered up my spine, icy fingertips skimming my skin. I said nothing, but felt Käthe's curious glance upon my face. Once she might have scoffed along with Mother at our grandmother's superstitious babble, but my sister was changed.
I was changed.
"We must think of Josef's future," I said quietly. "What he needs."
But what did my brother need? The post had only just come the day before, but already I had read his reply into thinness, the letter turned fragile with my unasked and unanswered questions. Come quickly. What did he mean? To join him? How? Why?
"What Josef needs," Constanze said, "is to come home."
"And just what is there for my son to come home to?" Mother asked, angrily attacking old rust stains on a dented pot.
Käthe and I exchanged glances, but kept our hands busy and our mouths shut.
"Nothing, that's what," she continued bitterly. "Nothing but a long, slow trek to the poorhouse." She set down the scrubbing brush with a sudden clang, pinching the bridge of her nose with a soapy hand. The furrow between her brows had come and gone, come and gone ever since Papa's death, digging in deeper and deeper with each passing day.
"And leave Josef to fend for himself?" I asked. "What is he going to do so far away and without friends?"
Mother bit her lip. "What would you have us do?"
I had no answer. We did not have the funds to either send ourselves or to bring him home.
She shook her head. "No," she said decisively. "It's better that Josef stay in Vienna. Try his luck and make his mark on the world as God intended."
"It doesn't matter what God intends," Constanze said darkly, "but what the old laws demand. Cheat them of their sacrifice, and we all pay the price. The Hunt comes, and brings with them death, doom, and destruction."
A sudden hiss of pain. I looked up in alarm to see Käthe suck at her knuckles where she had accidentally cut herself with the knife. She quickly resumed cooking dinner, but her hands trembled as she sliced wet dough for noodles. I rose to my feet and took over making spätzle from my sister as she gratefully moved to frying the onions.
Mother made a disgusted noise. "Not this again." She and Constanze had been at each other's throats for as long as I could remember, the sound of their bickering as familiar as the sound of Josef practicing his scales. Not even Papa had been able to make peace between them, for he always deferred to his mother even as he preferred to side with his wife. "If I weren't already certain of your comfortable perch in Hell, thou haranguing harpy, I would pray for your eternal soul."
Constanze banged her hand on the table, making the letter — and the rest of us — jump. "Can't you see it is Josef's soul I am trying to save?" she shouted, spittle flying from her lips.
We were taken aback. Despite her irritable and irascible nature, Constanze rarely lost her temper. She was, in her own way, as consistent and reliable as a metronome, ticking back and forth between contempt and disdain. Our grandmother was fearsome, not fearful.
Then my brother's voice returned to me. I was born here. I was meant to die here.
I sloppily dumped the noodles into the pot, splashing myself with scalding hot water. Unbidden, the image of coal black eyes in a sharp-featured face rose up from the depths of memory.
"Girl," Constanze rasped, fixing her dark eyes on me. "You know what he is."
I said nothing. The burble of boiling water and the sizzle of sautéing onions were the only sounds in the kitchen as Käthe and I finished cooking.
"What?" Mother asked. "What do you mean?" Käthe glanced at me sidelong, but I merely strained the spätzle and tossed the noodles into the skillet with the onions.
"What on earth are you talking about?" Mother demanded. She turned to me. "Liesl?"
I beckoned to Käthe to bring me the plates and began serving supper.
"Well?" Constanze smirked. "What say you, girlie?"
You know what he is.
I thought of the careless wishes I had made into the dark as a child — for beauty, for validation, for praise — but none had been as fervent or as desperate as the one I had made when I heard my brother crying feebly into the night. Käthe, Josef, and I had all been stricken with scarlatina when we were young. Käthe and I were small children, but Josef had been but a baby. The worst had passed for my sister and me, but my brother emerged from the illness a different child.
"I know exactly who my brother is," I said in a low voice, more to myself than to my grandmother. I set a dish heaped high with noodles and onions in front of her. "Eat up."
"Then you know why it is Josef must return," Constanze said. "Why he must come home and live."
We all come back in the end.
A changeling could not wander far from the Underground, lest they wither and fade. My brother could not live beyond the reach of Der Erlkönig, save by the power of love. My love. It was what kept him free.
Then I remembered the feel of spindly fingers crawling over my skin like bramble branches, a face wrought of hands, and a thousand hissing voices whispering, Your love is a cage, mortal.
I looked to the letter on the table. Come quickly.
"Are you going to eat your supper?" I asked, glancing pointedly at Constanze's full plate.
She gave her food a haughty look and sniffed. "I'm not hungry."
"Well, you're not getting anything else, you ungrateful nag." Mother angrily stabbed at her supper with her fork. "We can't afford to cater to your particular tastes. We can barely afford to feed ourselves as it is."
Her words dropped with a thud in the middle of our dinner. Chastened, Constanze picked up her fork and began eating, chewing around that depressing pronouncement. Although we had settled all of Papa's debts after he died, for every bill we paid, yet another sprung up in its place, leaks on a sinking ship.
Once we were finished with supper, Käthe cleared the plates while I began the washing up.
"Come," Mother said, extending her arm to Constanze. "Let's get you to bed."
"No, not you," my grandmother said with disgust. "You're useless, you are. The girl can help me upstairs."
"The girl has a name," I said, not looking at her.
"Was I talking to you, Elisabeth?" Constanze snapped.
Startled, I lifted my head from the dishes to see my grandmother glaring at Käthe.
"Me?" my sister asked, surprised.
"Yes, you, Magda," Constanze said irritably. "Who else?"
Magda? I looked at Käthe, then at Mother, who seemed as bewildered as the rest of us. Go, she mouthed to my sister. Käthe made a face, but offered her arm to our grandmother, wincing as Constanze gripped it with all her spiteful strength.
"I swear," Mother said softly, watching the two of them disappear up the stairs together. "She grows madder by the day."
I returned to washing the dishes. "She's old," I said. "It's to be expected, perhaps."
Mother snorted. "My grandmother remained sharp until the day she died, and she was older than Constanze by an age."
I said nothing, dunking the plates in a clean tub of water before handing them to Mother to dry.
"Best not indulge her," she said, more to herself than to me. "Elves. Wild Hunt. The end of the world. One might almost think she actually believes these fairy stories."
Finding a clean corner of my apron, I picked up a plate and joined Mother in drying the dishes. "She's old," I said again. "Those superstitions have been around these parts forever."
"Yes, but they're just stories," she said impatiently. "No one believes them to be true. Sometimes I'm not sure if Constanze knows whether we live in reality or a fairy tale of her own making."
I said nothing. Mother and I finished drying the dishes and put them away, wiped down the counters and tabletops, and swept up what little dirt there was on the kitchen floor before making our separate ways toward our rooms.
Despite what Mother believed, we were not living in a fairy tale of Constanze's own making, but a terrible, terrible reality. A reality of sacrifices and bargains, goblins and Lorelei, of myth and magic and the Underground. I who had grown up with my grandmother's stories, I who had been the Goblin King's bride and walked away knew better than anyone the consequences of crossing the old laws that governed life and death. What was real and what was false was as unreliable as memory, and I lived in the in-between spaces, between the pretty lie and the ugly truth. But I did not speak of it. Could not speak of it.
For if Constanze was going mad, then so was I.
The boy's playing was magic, it was said, and those of discerning taste and even deeper pockets lined up outside the concert hall for a journey into the realms of the unknown. The venue was small and intimate, seating but twenty or so, but it was the largest gathering for which the boy and his companion had ever played, and he was nervous.
His master was a famous violinist, an Italian genius, but age and rheumatism had long since twisted the old man's fingers into stillness. In the maestro's prime, it was said Giovanni Antonius Rossi could make the angels weep and the devil dance with his playing, and the concertgoers hoped that even a glimmer of the old virtuoso's gifts could be heard in his mysterious young pupil.
A foundling, a changeling, the concertgoers whispered. Discovered playing on the side of the road in the backwoods of Bavaria.
The boy had a name, but it was lost amidst the murmurs. Master Antonius's student. The golden-haired angel. The fair youth. His name was Josef, but no one remembered, save for his companion, his accompanist, his beloved.
The companion had a name as well, but there were none who thought it worth noting. The dark-skinned boy. The Negro. The servant. His name was François, but no one bothered to use it, save for Josef, who held his beloved's name on his lips and in his heart.
The concert marked Josef's introduction to cultured Viennese society. Ever since France had beheaded or expelled the nobles from their borders, Master Antonius found his coffers growing lean in his adopted Parisian home, with wealthy patrons emptying their funds into Bonaparte's army. So the old virtuoso left the city of revolution and returned to the city of his greatest triumphs with the hopes of hooking golden fish with younger, prettier bait. At present they were hosted by the Baroness von Schenk, in whose salon the performance was to be held.
"Do not fail me, boy," the maestro said as they stood in the wings, waiting for their entrance. "Our livelihood depends on you."
"Yes, maestro," Josef said, his throat hoarse. He had slept ill the night before, his stomach knotted tight with nerves, his dreams broken by the half-remembered sound of thundering hooves.
"Keep your head together," Master Antonius said warningly. "None of this whining and crying for home. You are a man now. Be strong."
Josef swallowed and looked to François. The youth gave a slight reassuring nod, a gesture not lost on their teacher.
"Enough," Master Antonius growled. "You," he said, pointing to François, "stop indulging him, and you"— he pointed to Josef —"pull yourself together. We cannot afford to lose our heads now. We will start with a few selections I have composed, then we will move on to the Mozart as planned, ça va?" Josef shrank beneath his master's glower. "Yes, maestro," he whispered.
"If you are good — and only if you are good — you may play Vivaldi for the encore." The old virtuoso pinned his pupil with a beady glare. "None of that Der Erlkönig nonsense. This audience is used to the music of the greats. Do not insult their ears with that monstrosity."
"Yes, maestro." Josef's voice was scarcely audible.
François took note of the boy's flushed cheeks and clenched jaw, and wrapped his warm hand around his beloved's tightened fists. Be patient, mon coeur, the touch seemed to say.
But the other boy did not reply.
Master Antonius parted the curtains and the boys walked out before the audience to polite applause. François sat himself down at the pianoforte while Josef readied his violin. They shared a look, a moment, a feeling, a question.
The concert began as planned, with the pupil playing selections composed by the master, accompanied by the youth at the keyboard. But the audience was old, and they remembered how divine the master's playing, how transporting the sound. This boy was good: the notes were clear, the phrasing elegant. But there was something missing perhaps — a soul, a spark. It was like hearing the words of a favorite poet translated into a foreign tongue.
Perhaps they had expected too much. Talent was fickle, after all, and those who burned brightest with it often did not last.
The angels take Antonius if the devil does not get to him first, they once said of the old virtuoso. Such gifts were not meant for mortal ears.
Age had gotten to Master Antonius before either God or the Devil, but it did not seem as though his pupil were graced with the same divine spark. The audience dutifully clapped between each piece and resigned themselves to a long evening of little significance, while from the wings, the old virtuoso fretted and fumed at his pupil's diminishing returns.
Another set of eyes watched the performing pair from the opposite wing. The eyes were the startling, vivid green of emeralds or the deep waters of a summer lake, and in the dark, they glowed.
Selections finished, Josef and François moved on to a Mozart sonata. The room fell quiet, dull, laden with the inattentive lull of genteel boredom. A soft snore rose from the back of the salon, and in the wings, Master Antonius silently seethed. Yet still those green eyes watched the boys from the shadows opposite. Waiting. Wanting.
When the concert was over, the audience rose to their feet, perfunctorily calling for an encore. Josef and François bowed, while Master Antonius gripped his wig, sending plumes of powder into the air. Vivaldi save us, he thought. The Red Priest hear my prayer. Josef and François bowed once more, sharing another private look, the answer to an unspoken question.
The youth settled himself back by the keyboard, dark fingers and white-laced wrists poised over black sharps and natural ivories. The boy tucked his violin under his chin and raised his bow, the horsehair quivering with anticipation. Josef gave the tempo and François responded in kind, the two of them weaving a tapestry of melody between them.
It was not Vivaldi.
Excerpted from "Shadowsong"
Copyright © 2018 S. Jae-Jones.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part I: Ever Thine,
The Price of Salt,
The Mad, The Fearful, The Faithful,
The Use of Running,
A Maelstrom in the Blood,
A Kingdom to Outrun,
Part II: Ever Mine,
The House of Madmen and Dreamers,
Der Erlkönig's Own,
The End of the World,
Part III: Ever Ours,
The Kinship Between Us,
The Brave Maiden's Tale, Reprise,
The Old Monastery,
The Monster I Claim,
Intermezzo: Into that World Inverted,
He Is for Der Erlkönig Now,
Brave Maiden's End,
Part IV: Immortal Beloved,
The Return of the Goblin Queen,
A Whole Heart and a World Entire,
A Guide to Names and Titles,
A Guide to German Phrases,
A Guide to Musical Terms,
Also by S. Jae-Jones,
About the Author,
What People are Saying About This
"Spellbinding and sexy, Wintersong is a feast for all the senses. I didn't want this beautifully written book to end."