Spun Sugar And Bootblack

Spun Sugar And Bootblack

by Christoph James


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781426960857
Publisher: Trafford Publishing
Publication date: 03/16/2011
Pages: 524
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.05(d)

First Chapter

Spun Sugar and Bootblack

By Christoph James

Trafford Publishing

Copyright © 2011 Christoph James
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4269-6085-7

Chapter One

Scotland, 1864

Tamlyn moved stealthily towards the drift of quail and raised his weapon in the air with a swift spinning motion. Suddenly the ground beneath his nimble feet trembled, and the birds burst into flight with a flutter of wings.

"That's twice today that the ground has shaken," whispered the youngster. The birds had not flown out of Tamlyn's range. He raised his sling again and sent a smooth stone through the cool afternoon air. The projectile connected with a quail's head, knocking it from its roost. The small boy pounced on the stunned bird and swung it deftly to snap the neck.

Murdoch spoke excitedly. "Well done, now I'll show you how to clean your kill, and we'll eat, but first we'll find shelter.

Murdoch hung his short hunting bow from a shoulder and looked to the sky. "The clouds are moving in and it will rain soon."

"Look," exclaimed Tamlyn. "See how swift that crow is."

Murdoch cocked his head to squint at the black form winging rapidly from view. "You have sharp eyes, little brother. Not all who fly are what they seem. We had better return home under cover of the trees."

The two hunters emerged from the thicket of gorse and began to descend slowly towards the woods. Tamlyn walked behind his brother, who was whistling a soft tune. "Murdoch, how do you know when you've seen a real shape-changer?"

The older boy slowed his pace and placed an arm on his brother's shoulder. "Five claws," he said, thrusting his hand forward, "like the hand of a man. If you get close enough you'll know."

The young boy's eyes widened as he shook his head. "I hope I am never that close."

Murdoch urged him forward with a gentle nudge. "Not all shape-changers are evil. Mother once told me that some of the townsfolk believe Grandfather can take the shape of a large dog."

"I would laugh if I saw that," said a suddenly amused Tamlyn. "I could tell Grandfather that we sighted a rook today, and he'd bark and wag his tail." His laughter was answered by a distant clap of thunder. Murdoch peered at the darkening clouds and urged his brother forward again.

The black bird took note of the travellers as they entered the glade, two young hunters of no importance, hardly worth a mention in his report. He was to take notice of any movement of large groups, and these children certainly didn't fit the criteria. He flexed his talons—ten in all, five on each foot—and changed altitude as low clouds began to obscure the landscape below.

Some shape-changers, in most cases the villainous types, had long, involved names that didn't mean much to anyone but themselves. This swift and cunning creature was known as Domnash, his full name being Domnash Trelinka Vardekuzsh Miseritof Todemetris Azubar.

Domnash surveyed the winding river over which he now flew. The larger of the two falls was several miles ahead where the river widened. When he reached the first set of falls, he would rest for a short period. He had flown long and hard and would soon require food to renew his strength for the remainder of the journey.

The bird's keen eyes spotted a red squirrel near a small stand of trees to the left of the falls. The changeling's large talons gave him the ability to hunt like a hawk, swooping down on his prey and dealing quick and efficient death to the victim with his sharp beak. Domnash, within seconds of the kill, undertook the transformation to his alternate form.

In the shape of a man his features bore a strong resemblance to his avian counterpart. The nose was long, narrow, and beaklike, and his eyes under heavy lids shone dark from deep in their sockets. Black hair like wet seaweed framed a pale angular face, falling to shoulder length, with a thin braid on either side that joined behind his head with a silver clasp.

Long-fingered white hands with sharpened nails hung from the sleeves of a loose blouse the color of charred bone under a tightly laced jerkin of dark leather. His breeches were a mottled gray material, similar in texture to his tall boots, which were fashioned from softened cowhide.

Domnash, like others of his kind, had a liking for shiny objects of rich color and luminosity. He wore a brooch above his heart that glowed a deep angry purple. The stone had been given in payment for one of many unconscionable acts of betrayal.

Autumn fog was gathering in the low areas as Domnash stepped carefully through the damp grass. The dark creature had eaten the animal quickly and was picking the small bits of raw meat from between his teeth with a splinter of bone. Then he angled his pocket watch toward the fading light with an impatient sneer.

"Dig me up a handful of that wild garlic," said Murdoch. The quail had been stripped and gutted. The older boy quartered the bird and dropped it in the small cooking pot that accompanied him on all his forays into the country. His rucksack also contained a well-made hatchet and a valuable l tinderbox. He had been careful to build the fire at the southern end of the clearing, as the breeze was from the north. The smoke would drift away from them and filter harmlessly through the trees, leaving little sign of their temporary encampment.

"You know," said Murdoch in a low voice, "these movements underground can bring forth many changes. I've heard tell of an entire village falling into a space between the cliffs and vanishing altogether."

Tamlyn's eyes widened. "Where would everything go? What is beneath the earth?"

"According to Father," the older boy replied, "there is nothing other than fire and death, but I've heard stories."

"What stories?" asked Tamlyn eagerly.

"Nothing that I care to mention just now" answered Murdoch, returning his attentions to the cooking. "Remind me tomorrow, in the daylight, and I'll tell you a story."

Tam handed his brother two plump cloves of garlic root and glanced nervously at his feet, half expecting the ground to give way. "Do you think we'll ever go to war?" he asked, changing the subject.

"I don't know little brother. Why do you ask?"

"Grandfather was in a war. That's how he lost his finger."

"Well," replied Murdoch, "it was a fight, certainly not a war." "When Grandfather was a young man, his family moved to our valley in search of a living. After his people had settled in and made a home, they were bothered by the English soldiers who were always making trouble for them, nothing like the nastiness of the old days, but still bothersome.

Murdoch stirred the fire and turned the pieces of meat. He continued, "The fight lasted for some time, and Grandfather killed the English captain, but only after the leader's blade had severed his index finger. Grandmother Vannah was quick to stop the bleeding, and grandfather carried on.

"What did they look like? The English, I mean."

"Father remembers seeing the troops when he was a boy about your age, but they are seldom seen above the border nowadays," Murdoch replied. "I've never seen them"—he gazed across the flames with a vacant look and dropped his voice to a whisper—"except in dreams. I've seen them in dreams."

"And what did they look like in your dreams?" asked Tamlyn.

Murdoch shook his head and smiled at his brother. "Just shadows ... but never mind, let's eat quail, and I have a skin full of cider to wash down our meal. Then we'll make our way back before nightfall."

For a while the youngsters ate without speaking, enjoying the woodland smells that mingled with the comfortable aroma of wild game, wood smoke, and fragrant clover. After carefully extinguishing the fire the brothers turned towards home and set out with an eye on the darkening skies.

"I'm going to pick some mushrooms for us," declared Tamlyn. He recalled that just before the falls where the field began to blend into the High Wood there was a patch of grasses that would yield the tastiest mushrooms for miles. The small fungi were more visible in the reflected light of evening, and Tamlyn would have had difficulty locating them earlier in the day.

By the time Murdoch and Tamlyn had skirted the edge of the woods and climbed the rise above their village, Domnash the shape-changer had been across the valley, back to the second falls, and was on the return leg of his flight, passing the travellers above the low clouds, just out of sight.

Back at the village, Ceana laid her weaving aside and quietly cursed the failing light. There were not enough hours of daylight to finish the tasks she had set herself. In any case, her eyes had grown tired, and she wanted a place by the fire. She shifted her gaze to a stand of dark trees that grew along a gradual rise to the left of her home. She sensed the return of her sons before they came into view at the crest of the hill.

Looking down from the trees, Murdoch smiled at the sight of his village. The fireplaces had been lit, and a smell of roasting meat reached them from below. Somewhere in the valley a piper was crying out the rhythms of an evening song, and a shooting star tore across the deepening blue of the night. Tamlyn was anxious to tell his father of the day's adventure and the meal of quail.

Charlotte emerged from the doorway and waved at her returning brothers. Charlotte was tall and strong for a girl. Her golden red hair fell down the length of her back, and her knowing eyes flashed with mischief. She greeted her brothers with an excited smile. "Father had visitors," she blurted, "two Englishmen from the south. It's all very secretive."

Murdoch looked concerned, and turned to his mother for confirmation. Tam's mouth remained open as Ceana spoke. "Your father will be back in the morning,"

"Is it true?" asked Tamlyn, studying his big sister's face for signs of deception.

"Yes," continued Charlotte, "one rode in on a large roan mare with the most beautiful saddle, and he almost fell from his horse because he carried a wound."

"Where is father?" inquired Murdoch, "and why would he help the English?"

"Your father and Uncle Caymus took them to Grandfather's for medicine." replied Ceana. Then she lowered her voice: "The injured one is named Fearghal." It appeared to all three children that their mother was concerned with the day's happenings and suddenly anxious to change the subject. "I want to hear about your day," she said, brightening and taking Tamlyn by the hand. "And I want some stones from the fire."

Tamlyn's adventures dwindled in stature next to the events that had transpired in his absence, but he helped his mother wrap some stones from the fireplace and told her all about the quail hunt. The large, flat stones would be wrapped in a blanket and nestled at the foot of her mattress.

Murdoch, Tamlyn, and Charlotte lived in a pleasant four-room stone cottage with a thatched roof, at the very top of High Street. Murdoch and Tamlyn slept in a small half room to the left of their parents' bedroom, and Charlotte occupied a smaller sleeping chamber to the right. Ronan and Ceana Macleary enjoyed life with their children in the little Scottish village, despite the creeping poverty that had swallowed up so many families. Dunradin's woollen mill had closed, and new roads bypassed them in favour of the larger towns to the east. Ronan had developed into a skillful smithy, not caring for botany and medicine, as his father Tyburn had.

Tyburn Macleary, for his part, was the nearest approximation to a doctor that the town had, and the old gentleman relied heavily on his knowledge of flora and fauna for the relief of most maladies. Murdoch enjoyed spending time with the old man when he could and was himself becoming educated in the practical uses of plants such as rose hip and opium poppies from the Far East.

As Charlotte lay on her mattress, she thought about the stranger Fearghal, visibly in pain from his injuries. He looked much like her father but taller, and darker in complexion, with a full-length woven jacket with a long opening at the back to accommodate riding and tall, well-worn boots. His hair was long and loose, peppered with much silver and gray. His lean, tanned face was in need of washing, and judging by the stubble on his high cheekbones, he had not bathed or shaved for several days. The stranger's eyes were coal black and intense. Overall, Charlotte found him attractive but also felt a cold sense of familiarity in the crooked half smile that he had granted her.

Tamlyn lay awake for some time, too excited with thoughts of soldiers and large horses to let sleep come easily. He'd gained no information from his sister except that the stranger Fearghal and his companion had entered the village on horseback, led by Uncle Caymus, and that Father had seemed very surprised and concerned at the visitor's appearance. The two men had wasted no time and left immediately with no explanation other than Ronan's promise to his wife Ceana that he would return in the morning or send word.

Tam closed his eyes and listened to the breeze as it caressed leaf and branch in a symphony of calming presence. He allowed himself to be taken away with the rhythm of the wind, ignoring his brother's quiet snoring. He had the uncanny ability to put himself at ease by entering a cocoon of silence that shielded him from the outer world, and before long he drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Two

Tyburn removed Fearghal's jacket and slowly raised his patient's left arm. The Englishman winced with pain. "Your wound is treatable, and does not pose any immediate danger," said the doctor. "I have ointments that will cure and clean the wound, but you've torn a muscle in your side, and this will require stillness and inactivity for at least a fortnight—no travel and as little movement as possible. You are welcome to stay here of course, as is your companion, and if you take it into your heads to do otherwise, I will not be responsible for your lack of wisdom."

"Thank you," replied Fearghal. "We will accept your kind hospitality for the time being. However unforeseen events may force me to recover more quickly."

Tyburn Macleary merely nodded and motioned the four guests to follow him along a well-tended garden path towards a small pond. Despite the old man's apparent good health, he walked with the aid of a stout cane.

After his children were grown, Tyburn had moved to the country to practice his medicine. The stone cottage's original inhabitants were lost to history, and all that remained as a clue to their vocation was a low stone table towards the entrance of the garden. Rumours of witchcraft and demonic rituals were passed down through time, and no one in recent memory, save for Tyburn, had been willing to occupy the property.

Fearghal's companion, who had been introduced as Dafyd Kendrick, led the horse and its owner across the grass, preceded by the remaining members of the party. Dafyd was attired in a fashion similar to Fearghal and might have passed for him at a glance were it not for the difference in height and skin tone. Dafyd was darker and shorter, with a full black beard. This was understandable, given he was a Welshman.

Tyburn directed his guests to the table and pointed in the direction of the pond. "The water is good to drink for both man and beast," he said, with a bow towards Fearghal's horse. "It's very rich in curative minerals."

Dafyd led the thirsty animal to the water. "Is he to be trusted?" inquired Ronan quietly, referring to the footman.

"Yes, in all matters," replied Fearghal, "but please don't assume that Dafyd is my servant. My cousin may look like a simple foot soldier, and in fact this is how he prefers to be regarded; however, he is of a very distinguished lineage."

Fearghal then began a narrative on the recent history of their English neighbours, some of which was unknown to his hosts. Tyburn was perhaps more knowledgeable concerning the English, but even his eyes widened with some of Fearghal's revelations, the most startling of which was the confirmation of the existence of the fabled Teriz. Tyburn Macleary alone had heard the name, and it dwelt in the far reaches of earliest childhood memories, in the form of a frightening rhyme he could not quite recall. "They are a nasty-looking race of pale beings who have been around for centuries, for the most part keeping to caves and foraging for food under the cover of night. This is not to say that they are an unintelligent people, for in fact they are very advanced in a most conniving and cunning way."

Fearghal turned to Ronan and placed a hand on his shoulder. "I've returned with a warning for you and Tyburn, your lives may be in grave danger. Had it not been for the kindness you showed me as a child, I would be elsewhere today."


Excerpted from Spun Sugar and Bootblack by Christoph James Copyright © 2011 by Christoph James. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Spun Sugar and Bootblack 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
G-Blunt More than 1 year ago
This book follows the adventures of Tamlyn Macleary , The era is 1864 Scotland. It's a frightening story of cannibalism and survival in a remote village.