At the request of a pal, I decided to post an excerpt from Embers. Let me know what you think! It’s due for release on December 1st, so keep your eyes peeled for it!
I couldn’t tell what time I woke, I only knew that it was dark and the fire still danced brightly at my back, but I woke with a start. It might have been a bad dream, forgotten already, or even a log crackling in the fire but I felt a pang of anxiety as I opened my eyes and a second, amplified jolt of fear as I focused on the long shadow which reached over me.
I struggled to process the information my eyes delivered, willing myself to wake up faster. With limbs stiffened by sleep and fear, my eyes flitted everywhere looking for Vodou. I thought I heard whispers, but they hadn’t come from James; he was breathing loudly in my ear. I tried to move, but something weighed heavy on my ribs, pinning my left arm to my chest, restricting my movement. My heart fluttered again, faster and faster. At first I tried to tell myself I was dreaming, but then I remembered where I was and knew what I saw was real.
“James”, I hissed.
“Go back to sleep”, he murmured.
As he shifted his weight a little I realised he’d curled up behind me, his arm draped carelessly over my ribs, thus my inability to move. Then my fear heightened as the shadow shifted abruptly to one side in response to James’ movement.
“Open your eyes”, I insisted. “Look at the shadows”. I pinched his hand as hard as I could. He flinched and groaned irritably, but then I heard his breath catch in his throat as he lifted his head to see the shadow. It stretched almost as far as the nearest tree, making the creature seem taller than it really was. It had the head and torso of a man and the body and legs of a horse.
I lashed out with my legs and pushed away James’ arm, struggling to free myself from the blanket. I was on my feet in seconds, James beside me. Other than the creases in his right cheek, all traces of sleep were gone and his posture was that of someone ready to attack; knees bent, eyes narrowed. One hand held the scabbard at his hip whilst the other gripped the sword hilt.
“Don’t”, I whispered, reaching out a hand and gently pressing my palm to his wrist. His grip loosened but he didn’t let go of the sword.
There’s nothing here that will harm you, except for the bears and the wolves, I reminded myself. On top of that, everything I’d ever been taught about centaurs led me to believe it was unlikely that this one meant us harm. They were quiet creatures, shy and peaceful by nature. I had never met one before, but I knew horses very well. It seemed logical now that I was faced with one that he’d be in touch with his equine instincts.
Slowly, I turned around, careful to keep my eyes low to the ground like I would with a new horse, but the creature was gone. Or at least it seemed for a moment. As I scanned the clearing and the open field beyond, I caught sight of him in the shadows at the tree-line.
Taking care not to face him head on, I studied him from a distance. His coat was deep chestnut, his tail glossy black. His upper body was muscular but lean and covered only by a thin sleeveless jacket that seemed to be made of papery leather. As I allowed my eyes to stray towards his face I realised there was something boyish about him; flawless olive skin untainted by age lines. His almond eyes and high, flushed cheekbones brought to mind a Maori tourist I’d met in the bookshop last summer and the only things inhuman about his face were his ears. Smaller than Vodou’s and broader, they were the same chestnut red as his flanks, but perfectly proportioned and placed exactly where I would expect to find human ears if he’d had any.
As my eyes met his I became aware of two things: The first was that he was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen, and the second was that his kind, dark eyes reflected my own nervous curiosity.