Today I have an excerpt for you from Miserere: An Autumn Tale by Teresa Frohock for day 15 of the Night Shade Books Countdown. For further updates, you can follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/nightshadebooks.
There is also an interview with Teresa Frohock and a giveaway of Miserere: An Autumn Tale today as part of the countdown, but I’m posting those separately since putting this all in one post would end up being pretty massive.
Hope you enjoy the excerpt! In particular, I loved Rachael’s part in this section. Lucian’s really the main character so I hadn’t read that much about Rachael before chapter 6, but her scene in this chapter was when I realized I was going to love Rachael every bit as much as Lucian – and I certainly did. As I mentioned in my review yesterday, Rachael and Lucian were a large part of what made this book for me.
This excerpt from Miserere comes from the chapter entitled Trinity (chapter six). It’s a rather long chapter, so I’ve cut Catarina’s scene from this portion. The excerpt you are about to read begins after Catarina and the demon Cerberus rape a young man named Armand. Catarina takes the love from Armand’s soul, and Cerberus encourages her to send her spirit into the Wasteland so she can sing Lucian home.
Catarina believes Lucian will have no choice but to obey the power of her song, and she intends to turn his heart to glass. In the darkness, Catarina sings to a man-child and dreams of her twin. Humming softly …
He awoke to a broken lullaby he recalled from his youth. Someone whispered his name. Lucian opened his eyes, wrapped in night so deep that he could not see his breath mist before him in the icy air. His sister’s spirit hovered at the edge of their little camp.
Lucian’s blood roared through his veins; fear gripped him by the throat at the sight of her. This magic was new, and she’d caught him unawares. Now that he didn’t have to guard his every thought against her, life outside of her house had made him careless. Lucian refrained from glancing in Lindsay’s direction. For now, the child was safely behind him, out of his sister’s sight.
“Lucian, we are never the same without you at my side.” Catarina’s voice passed through space and time as a nail to his heart, recalling their devotion to one another before her corruption. On a journey with his father, Lucian had written those words to her when they’d lived on Earth. They had been ten, and he knew she pined for him during those trips, so he always tried to write words to soothe her. She was no longer a child and neither was he.
Grinding his teeth against the pain and the cold, he struggled to his feet. “No more, Cate.” It was partial demand, partial plea.
“Oh, my darling,” she said. “We’ve had such a misunderstanding.” She shook her head sadly and her dark hair shadowed her face like a veil. He couldn’t see her eyes and thought himself safe from her wiles. “I know the thought of my retribution frightened you, but you misinterpreted my actions. My spies have uncovered threats against us. I sent my soldiers because I worried for your safety. The priest told me you were terrified so he helped you leave. What lies you’ve spread, Lucian. It grieves me that you believe I am such a monster.”
He felt her distress, and guilt gnawed his heart. Could his fear have clouded his judgment? He remembered her pleading tone as he’d walked out on her. Rather than demanding that he return, she had implored him.
“Now you are in great danger, wandering the Wasteland alone.” She gestured to his leg. “Crippled. What would happen if you fall and cannot rise? How can I live if something happens to you?”
With the special bond they shared, he heard her thoughts as clearly as if she’d spoken. We are never the same, her heart whispered to his,without you. “Come home, Lucian, where the fires are warm and there is no more pain. I forgive you. We’ll forget about this and love one another again.”
Each time she said his name her spell wrapped more securely around his heart. He saw his room behind her, enveloped in heat from the roaring fire; the warmth washed over his body and drove his pain away. Wouldn’t it be good to rest? To be warm and fed?
Come home, Lucian.
Relief flowed through him. It was all a mistake. He’d simply misinterpreted her intentions. This time would different; they would put aside their grievances. She would listen. Surely she would be reasonable. This time.
“Lucian?” Lindsay whispered as she touched his hand. “What’s going on?”
Catarina’s hold over him shattered when he looked away from his sister. The remnants of her enchantment spun away, insubstantial as dreams. The chill air of the Wasteland seeped back into his bones and his stomach growled with hunger. Only pain and humiliation awaited him in Hadra. She would never forgive him for running a second time.
He took Lindsay’s hand and drew the girl close. How could he have forgotten Lindsay? A week in Hadra would leave the girl insane. All the fires blazing in that haunted house couldn’t keep the shadows at bay. There was no reprieve from his sister’s malevolence. There never could be.
He wouldn’t betray another innocent to Catarina’s wrath, not for all the warmth on Woerld. God help me, please. Lucian saw his room again; this time, he noticed a young man supine on the bed. The youth had eyes like stones to match his loveless heart, shriveled and black.
Go home where she will grind glass into my heart for eternity. “No more,” he said a second time, his voice stronger.
Catarina ignored him and addressed Lindsay. “Tell me your name, my dear.”
“Tell her nothing.” Lucian tried to shield the girl from his sister, but Lindsay was captivated by Catarina and stepped around him.
“Lindsay Richardson. What a lovely name. And aren’t you pretty and pale, like a girl made of glass?” Catarina’s apparition flickered then grew clear again.
Lucian took heart; a spell this strong had to be draining her physical body. He only had to wait her out and pray that Lindsay said nothing to give their location away.
“I’m so sorry, Lindsay. My brother is very confused, his mind is not right. Tell me, has he been telling you about demons and Hell? Angels?”
The weight of Lucian’s fear almost dragged him down. With his shaggy hair and beard, he probably looked and smelled like a madman wandering the wilderness, raving of angels and demons. The fragile progress he’d made to win the child’s trust was broken; he could see it in Lindsay’s guarded look. “She lies, Lindsay,” he said.
“He thinks I want to hurt him, but I just want him to be safe.” Catarina smiled. “He needs someone to look after him.”
“Are you?” The girl stepped away from him and he released her hand. “Crazy?”
“No, Lindsay.” Lucian shook his head. “No.”
“He’s just sick and confused,” Catarina said.
Lucian stood very still so as not to startle the child. “I swear I haven’t lied to you.”
“Haven’t you, Lucian?” Catarina gestured to the mare. “Have you told her that you murdered the man who rode that horse? Isn’t that a lie of omission?”
Lindsay took another step back and tripped. Lucian reached out to grab her arm and break her fall, but she twisted away from him. She sat down hard and looked up at him. “Is she telling the truth? Did you kill somebody?”
“Oh, God,” Lindsay whispered.
“Tell me where you are, Lindsay.” Catarina’s spirit drifted forward, and Lindsay pushed herself backward. Catarina halted. “Not everything he told you was a lie. You were drawn to him, and he is your Elder, damaged though he is. I know you’re trying to understand your attachment to Lucian. These first days are so hard for foundlings. If you help me bring my poor brother home, you may stay with us. I will dress you like a princess and give you everything you could possibly desire. Have you seen a tree, a house, something you can describe to me so my men can find you?”
Lucian wanted nothing more than to let the child see his heart and know he meant her no harm, but he couldn’t manipulate Lindsay’s decision. Either she would choose to follow her Elder or she would choose the easier path of the Fallen. Whichever road she desired, the decision had to be hers and hers alone. If he influenced her as he had Catarina, then he would always doubt Lindsay’s allegiance to the Citadel.
Lindsay sat on the ground, her gaze flickering from Lucian to Catarina. She was overwhelmed; Lucian saw it in her tears, and his heart was moved with pity. He said, “You owe me no loyalty. If you want to tell her where you are, go ahead. I just ask that you wait until dawn. That will give me time to be away. Will you do that for me, Lindsay?”
“Tell me now, Lindsay.” Catarina’s image shimmered with her eagerness and she leaned over the child.
Lindsay evaluated first Catarina, then Lucian, measuring each twin with her gaze. Her left eye narrowed at Catarina. Lindsay wiped her eyes and stood to take Lucian’s hand. “I’m staying with you. I don’t think you’re crazy.” She whispered, “I didn’t think Hell was amusing.”
Lucian wanted to weep for joy; his respite was short.
Catarina’s shriek filled the night. “You’ll tell me where you are, bitch-child!”
Lindsay screamed. “Stop it! Lucian! Make it stop!” She doubled over and pulled at her hair. The band that held her ponytail in place snapped free, and her pale locks tumbled around her face. She yanked handfuls of hair from her scalp. White strands floated to the ground in an ashen heap. Lucian dropped his cane and grabbed her so he could hold her with both hands. Wild with pain, she tried to twist away from him, but he kept his grip.
Lindsay didn’t know how to shield herself, and Catarina intended to seize the information from the girl’s mind. Lucian had been the victim of his twin’s attacks in the past, but Catarina always needed Cerberus to aid her in defeating Lucian’s defenses.
As he had in Hell, he concentrated on Lindsay’s mind until he felt his soul connect with hers. This time, she was aware of his presence in her mind. He startled her with the intimacy of his thoughts, but she didn’t resist him. Under normal circumstances, an Elder and foundling would use an opportunity like this to cement their attachment to one another.
Yet these weren’t normal circumstances, and he would not remain her Elder. He had no choice. Catarina would kill the child. Lucian shielded Lindsay from Catarina’s assault then turned on his sister.
He had no time to mourn his neglect of prayer. He scoured his memory for a Psalm of protection. Yet the only one he could recall was the Psalm Rachael used whenever she was threatened. “‘I cry aloud to—’”
Scalded by his words, Catarina fled from Lindsay’s mind. “God damn you—”
“—‘that he may hear me.’”
“—Lucian, don’t you dare pray against me!”
Free of his twin’s control, Lindsay sagged against him. Sobs racked her body.
Catarina’s image wavered. “Is this how you treat me after all I’ve done for you? You pray against your own flesh and blood for the sake of a stranger! Is this how you repay my benevolence? You offend me with your ingratitude.”
Oh, dear God, but isn’t that grand? He offended her. He wasn’t prepared for the rage that surged through his chest and flushed his face like a lightning flash.
Suddenly, his head rocked and he staggered beneath the pain shattering his mind. His heart hammered against his ribs as if it could escape its prison of blood and bone. Before he could recover himself, Catarina shot another blow to his mind that was the equivalent to a punch in the face. He barely shielded the child from the brunt of his twin’s attacks.
“Lucian!” Lindsay’s cry penetrated his agony.
“Lucian!” Catarina’s mocking voice echoed. “Silence! Or I’ll break you!”
The agony in his head blinded him, and he lost precious moments struggling out of the pain. When the encampment swam back into focus, he raised his head and locked his attention on his twin. “‘In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord—’”
Catarina flinched and screamed. “You will come home to me now!” Weeping wrath, she pointed one shaking finger at him. “Do not estrange yourself from me, brother. I am all that stands between you and suffering. Do not make that third pronouncement.”
“No more!” His voice thundered through the pre-dawn silence, and her features contorted as she shrieked herself back to her warm rooms.
In her absence, nothing stirred. Woerld was silent and the wood not so dark now that death had passed them over. Still, he couldn’t slow his pounding heart nor rid himself of the rancid taste of . . .
Fear soured Rachael’s mouth, almost bringing her to wakefulness before her dreams drowned her in slumber. On her blanket before the small campfire, she moaned in her sleep as Lucian’s terror bumped against her breast. She felt his heart pound; the same heart that had once beat in time with her own. His vulnerability disturbed her, for the Draconian prince she had known never felt so trivial an emotion as fear.
. . . no more, no more, no more . . .
We were done long ago, long before this dawn when he denied his sister three times. We are done, Lucian.
Through space and time, his answer drifted soft as ashes, I understand.
Then the fragile link severed and Lucian was gone from her. She wasn’t prepared for the vast emptiness he left in his wake. The darkness his presence held at bay came rushing down on her, engulfing her in a misery deepened by his absence. The Wyrm scratched against the back of her mind, rapping, tapping, seeking a way into her so it could use her for its own, but she cried aloud to God and drove the Wyrm back.
Tossing restlessly, she dreamed Lucian standing before her. She was drenched in blood and thrust her crimson hands forward, her life pooling at her feet. I can’t make it stop, she said as a fly whined past her face.
In the sky, a great dark cloud boiled on the horizon. Thunder reached the crescendo of a sonic boom. It was coming, hidden in the cloud, something huge, coming straight for Lucian. Her breath came in short bursts. She held up her hand, palm out to the blackness bearing down on them.
no no No No No. “No!” She sat up on the cool ground of their campsite, her arm outstretched like it had been in her dream. She felt Lucian’s presence return, nothing more than the faintest sense of his consciousness touching hers, but there with her.
Just her name and nothing more, because he had never called her Rae like the others. He always said her whole name as if he loved the feel of it in his mouth.
Just her name. Then he was gone from her again and so was her fear.
Someone took her wrist and she bit a scream to silence.
In the small encampment, shapes became clearer in the pre-dawn light that hedged the shadows clinging to her awareness. Focusing on the coals of the fire she and Caleb had allowed themselves, she tried to bring herself back to reality.
“I’m here for you, Rae.” Caleb’s voice dispersed the last of her dream.
He was beside her, close enough to kiss, and for one wild instant, Rachael expected him to brush his lips against hers. An image abruptly flashed through her brain, and she saw herself with Caleb. They were in her bed naked, straining against one another. He kneaded her breast with one greedy hand and pinched her nipple between his finger and thumb. She clawed his back and bit his shoulder; her hips rising to meet his thrusts as he pushed himself deeper into her. As suddenly as it had begun, the image was gone.
Rachael shuddered. Where had that picture come from? “All right.” Her voice was thick with unshed cries and the Wyrm snaked forward. She sent it scurrying. I cry aloud . . . oh, God . . . I cry. “It’s all right,” she said.
He nodded but didn’t let her go. She extracted herself from his grip; she didn’t want him touching her. He frowned like he read her mind and sensed her loathing. She shook off the idea. Caleb’s talents were moderate at best. He excelled in sensing the presence of others, but he didn’t have the ability to discern their thoughts. Only those with the greater talents could actually hear the thoughts of others.
“Lucian is on the move,” she said to break the uneasy silence. “He’s coming south with the foundling. Catarina wants him home to her. He’s denied her three times.”
Caleb blanched at Lucian’s name. “How do you know all that?”
“I drift.” Lucian’s word: drifting. That’s what he called the surreal experience of moving between dreams and realities during sleep. “There was a disturbance in the Wasteland last night.”
He gazed into the fields again. “The two of you always were too close.”
“He was shielding the foundling from Catarina.”
Caleb snorted a laugh and rose. He walked to the fire and kicked the dirt more violently than necessary to cover the smoldering coals. “We haven’t even reached him and he’s already started to deceive you.”
“There was no deception. He was protecting the foundling.”
“That’s what he wants you to think.”
Rachael got up and grabbed her saddle. “I’m a judge, Caleb.”
“You were a judge when he deceived you the first time.”
She choked on her rage and turned on him. His back was to her so he didn’t see her scowl. She said, “Which means I’m watching him closely now.”
“Are you really?” He threw the saddle blanket onto his mount and the mare danced away from him. He soothed the horse with a touch.
Her tone turned deadly. “I’m watching everyone, Caleb.” And that includes you, my good friend.
He froze then calmly pulled the saddle’s cinch into place. “I’m on your side, Rae. You know that.”
“After all we’ve been through, you should know that.”
“But I’m deceived so easily.”
“That’s not what I meant.” He turned to face her. “Lucian is complicit with the Fallen, and he has Mastema’s gift for lies. That’s how he deceived John, Reynard, me, you. All of us, Rae, he deceived all of us. He’s dangerous and he’ll use your feelings for him against you. That’s how the Fallen win. They turn your greatest weakness against you.”
She didn’t like the fear she saw in his eyes, not at all. Yet it wasn’t Lucian that Caleb feared. There was something else, something deeper and the truth eluded her. It had something to do with Tanith. Tanith tried to warn her, but Rachael couldn’t recall the older woman’s exact words. They had stood close together in the courtyard, whispering so no one would hear, and Tanith said—
“Rae? Are you okay?”
Rachael started and realized Caleb was ready to go; she hadn’t begun to saddle Ignatius. “I’m fine.” She got to work and finished quickly. What was wrong with her? She couldn’t remember a conversation from three days ago, but her past with Lucian remained clear as day.
Caleb didn’t pursue their discussion as they took to the road, and she didn’t encourage any more talk. She’d had enough barren words to last her a lifetime.
The fields surrounding them were coming to life with farmers and their families working diligently to bring in the harvest. She envied them their normalcy and their easy companionship.
Ignatius trotted effortlessly on the good road, and the Wyrm receded with the strengthening sun. Yet she still couldn’t resurrect Tanith’s words. All her mind conjured was the image of Lucian comforting the foundling. He appeared ragged and broken with his tattered dignity drawn around him like a cerecloth.
Catarina was absent from his side and now Rachael understood why: Lucian ran from his sister as fast as his disabled body would allow. This morning’s dream had solidified her suspicions that something had broken between the twins.
The recollection of Lucian’s haunted eyes moved her heart to a pity she couldn’t afford. Yet there was something else, something Rachael could only feel, a desire he guarded jealously, and it had to do with her.
She thought she heard him say he was sorry.
Or maybe that, too, was white noise blowing in the background; words as sterile as the loneliness engulfing her life. The deed was done and though time had not healed her, she had reconciled herself to her emptiness.
His remorse shouldn’t matter to her one way or another.
But it did.