The lovely Anna Mayle has a new book out and she's offering a giveaway copy!!! YAY, Anna!!!
It's the third book in her Stolen Child series - dark tales of darker fae. (Though, it's the third book in a series, all books can be read independently.) All you have to do to enter for your chance of winning a copy is leave a comment with a valid email address before 7pm, Tuesday, December 13th when I'll draw the winner.
Here's the blurb:
Nightmares were supposed to begin with dark and stormy nights, not the cheerful colors of a carnival. Love was supposed to strike like lightning, not slip quietly through dreams and sleep until it bled into the waking world. Faeries were supposed to be myths...
Funny how nothing in Gentle Carvers life was what it was supposed to be.
And an excerpt:
Gentle stood alone in the dark, unsure of how he’d gotten there. A road lay solid beneath his feet, it twisted into the distance in fits and starts under the sparse glow of streetlights. His head was cloudy. He was lost. He wanted his mommy and daddy.
“Hello?” he piped, his child’s voice, small with fear, broke on the word and he tightened his small arms around his teddy bear. Gentle didn’t think about it until after raising his voice, but maybe he didn’t want anything answering from the nothingness that surrounded the road.
It was fine; no one answered him.
If someone had, he guessed that would be something, and something would spoil the nothing.
Slowly, a sense of familiarity oozed through his haze-filled mind. The road shouldn’t have been so dark, but he knew it. He should be standing by the drive to their house. Gentle tried to turn in the direction where home should be, but he couldn’t go that way. His feet didn’t want to. They wanted to follow the road.
So he did.
The dark didn’t let up as he walked. The lights were no help. Every time his eyes started to adjust to the gloom, he’d come to a bright circle of light beneath a lonely lamp, and his eyes snapped back to focus as if it were day. They were helping the blackness to keep him blind. It was scary, but he’d started walking already, and now his feet wouldn’t stop. His footy pajamas made soft shushing sounds against the blacktop, but there were more sounds now, getting louder.
Ahead, Gentle could hear music—light and energetic—commanding people to be happy, forcing the most closed soul to play. Blindly, led by the sounds, he walked. The closer he got, the clearer the song. In the background, a cacophony of various other tunes blended with the loudest. They called to spectators and participants, invited people to distractions and treats, like a mad pied piper with too many flutes.
Gentle crested the rise and the streetlights instantly lost their hold over him as rows of brightly colored orbs came into view. They were strung over tents, trailers and wagons, up and down poles and rides. Those bulbs lit up painted signs that advertised wild and wondrous sights—Seth the Snake-man, The Bird Creature of Brazil, Boneless Ben, The Strongest Man Alive, Madam Fortuna and her magic, so many names and paintings.
Mesmerized, he stepped under the large sign that welcomed all to the Carnival Du’nan.
Laughter echoed from the riders, and Gentle smiled widely. Along the thoroughfare, candies, games and brightly clad barkers reached out to him. However, it was an old school bus painted purple and red that caught his eye. Through the narrow, dusty windows lined in a row along the side of the vehicle, he could see a skinny agitated man pacing in and out of view while he gestured wildly to the smaller figure seated at the front of the bus. The calmer of the two—a short man with bare muscular arms, curly red hair and stubble across his chin—stood and opened the doors to the bus.
Both walked out into the night air, still arguing.
They headed right toward Gentle.
He flinched and shrank back, the shadows closed in protectively. He didn’t understand what was going on, but something deep inside him said those men were frightening, and so they were. He clutched his teddy bear tightly, held his breath, and waited. Once they were well past him, Gentle crept carefully in their wake.
“What’s wrong with it? Usually it gives more of a showing,” the taller of the two complained. “It keeps moping like this, and someone will start making noise about abuse.”
The shorter man scoffed at the first. “And what’ll they charge us with then? Not human, is it? Not animal, neither. It’ll be fine, I’m thinking. Just having an off day.”
“It hasn’t been looking so good lately. There’ve been a lot of off days.”
“Bend an ear, yeah?” the redhead coaxed as they ducked into a large tent. “It’s not that I don’t feel sorry for the creature. My heart goes out to it, it does. But those sweet little fairy stories you Americans tell yourselves, they’re just that—stories.”
The door flap closed behind the carnies, and Gentle stared at the striped panel for a long moment, listening to the conversation going on beyond it. He knew he shouldn’t be here. He should be out under the carnival lights, amongst the crowds eating cotton candy, playing games and riding rides. Something though—the same instinct that had told him to hide—told him that he needed to be in the tent.
Gentle slipped carefully under the canvas wall and crouched down low to watch the two men. They walked up to a wagon with a big, wooden box built on top of it, painted in the same style as the signs out on the midway. In the darkness, with only the barest hint of light peeking in through the tent flaps, the picture on the side remained mostly hidden in the gloom, but Gentle made out one word, “Prince”, in a swirled carnival scrawl.
The calm man fiddled with latches and locks around the box as he continued. “This one’s been locked up for hundreds of years in this cage, so it is. It’s been passed on from generation to generation of Fynn’s family, all traditional like. Thing’s a feking heirloom. I’d love to be rid of it, scares the shit outta me, but what do you think a monster would do to its captors once freed? Hmm? I might be scared of it now, but I’m more terrified of what it might become once on the other side of those bars.”
“It looks so helpless.”
“Right, that’s the seventh face I’ve seen it wear since Fynn got the damned inheritance. Looks like whatever it wants to look like, don’t it? That’s one of its tricks; every face is more sad and pitiable than the next. Word of advice, just learn to look beyond it. You travel our circuit long enough, and it’ll show you its real face. The thing can’t control it constantly. It flickers sometimes, so it does. Like a broken telly.” The shorter man took hold of a large handle on the box’s side and tossed his head at his companion. “Heft that side, would you?”
The nervous man curled his fingers around the wooden panel, and the other one was on him almost instantly, jerking the hand back into view.
“Use the handles! Put your hands round the bars like that, and it’s like to bite them fingers off!” the redhead spat. “Ain’t you sharp as a feking beach ball.”
“I got it, I got it,” the taller man mumbled, staring at the wooden planks as if monsters lay behind them.
Gentle stayed quiet and watched them with wide eyes as the panels were lifted off the sides of the wagon. The bright blue letters shifted a bit into the light, and he could finally see all of it. The inhabitant of the wagon cage was billed as a “Fae Prince from the darkest glens of the Emerald Isle”.
What Gentle saw though, was a boy about his age with dirty black hair that fell in long, lank tresses over eyes the lightest blue Gentle had ever seen. He looked too thin and too pale. His patched and mismatched clothing hung too large on his slender frame.
The short, redheaded man tossed a bundle of cloth into the cage and motioned to it. “Get dressed quick like. Fynn won’t go lightly on you if you keep up this act.”
The child stared at the men, eyes vacant. “You cry foul, an act? I have felt unwell for a fortnight. This land is strange to me. It spits venom into the veins directly and works in tandem with my prison to render me well and truly weakened,” the boy spoke clearly, but his voice tripped and bubbled, like it was flowing, instead of breathed, full of water.
“Can’t say as I’m too fond of the Americas myself, but Fynn is the boss. Come on, it’s not so bad as all that.”
“If this is so, perhaps you would like to try living your life within confinement.”
The short man shooed the nervous one out of the tent then turned back to the cage. “Look, it’s not my fault you went and got yourself caught. Don’t take it out on me.”
“You have made the choice to prolong my imprisonment,” the boy accused.
“Himself is the one making choices. Fynn’s the one what keeps you. I’m just doing my job. ‘Sides, I said before, your folk aren’t known for their mercy,” the redheaded man fired back.
“Neither are yours. Give me the knife then. If you fear me so, let me go in one way or release me in another.”
“Put on the costume, your public awaits.”
Tears gathered at the corners of the boy’s blue eyes. “A public who condemns me to this mockery of a life by paying you for my captivity. Mayhap they could go to Hell.”
“Oh, drop the royal airs,” the man scoffed. “In six hundred years I reckon you’ve learned enough to speak like a one of us.”
“Very well,” the caged boy breathed out in a wet whisper. “My public can kiss my lily white ass.”
For one frozen moment, Gentle thought the captive prince would be punished in some horrible fashion, but his jailer just laughed and turned to go.
It was crueler than a beating, that dismissal. The proud shoulders hunched, the head bowed. At first Gentle thought the boy was crying. Then it began to rain, backwards. Large drops pulled themselves out of the ground and soaked his pant cuffs, rolling up his legs. It wasn’t the drops the carnie should have paid attention to.
The caged boy lunged at the bars. One slender arm reached through to grab the collar of the grown man and lifted him off of the ground. The boy began to grow, arms gained muscle and body gained height. His pale skin looked almost blue in the darkness, and his eyes…
The carnie hung there without flinching. “This ain’t smart. Those bars must be hurting fierce like.”
Eyes alight with shifting colors, the boy stared at his tormentor. “There are some pains which are worth enduring.”
“And in this case, then? What’ll that be worth? The shirt’ll rip before my skin.”
“Your grip upon myself is as tenuous as my hold upon your person. You cannot keep one immortal captive for his entirety any more than you may clasp an ocean in your hands. I shall have my freedom and my revenge. Remember this. I shall revisit these words upon you the moment before you die.”
“Well then, may the cat eat you and the devil eat the cat,” the redheaded carnie grabbed hold of the small hand tightly, wrenched it from his collar and squeezed brutally. When his rings touched the boy’s flesh, a sizzling sound hissed through the tent. “We’re done here. Save it for the customers, Tinker Bell,” he mocked and lashed out with a metal cane.
The ragged child dropped the man and grew frail again, but the man didn’t let go. Instead, he held tight and gave the small arm a sharp jerk. The boy was pulled into the bars. The impact didn’t seem hard enough to really hurt, but the boy screamed a high and musical note of anguish. He fought away from the metal frantically. Tiny wisps of smoke rose where his flesh met metal, and a cloyingly sweet burning smell filled Gentle’s nose.
Gentle clamped his teddy bear over his mouth to muffle a squeak of terror, but those pale eyes sought him out unerringly. The two boys stared at each other for an eternal moment. Fear and desolation spoke clearly between them. Then the man let go, and the little prince scuttled back into the cage’s center, curling in on himself to hide behind the thick black curtain of his hair.
The man spit at him, lip curled in a sneer. “Be little lord rags for the crowds if that’s how you like it. But you’ll give your performance, mark me, or you’ll be dancing your jig on the end of Fynn’s prick, so it is. One way or another, you’ll entertain us,” he promised then left the tent with a swish of his metal cane.
“You should not have had to see that,” the boy whispered quietly.
Gentle’s gaze darted around the tent.
“We are quite alone,” the little prince sighed and crept carefully to kneel near the bars without touching them. His skin was blackened in stripes where he’d been pressed against them. It flaked and cracked and looked more painful than anything Gentle had ever seen. “Do not be afraid of me…please.”
The last word sounded foreign, as if the prince didn’t use it often. “I’m not scared,” Gentle insisted. “Not of you. I’m scared of the grownups.”
“Yes. They scare me too, at times.”
Gentle moved forward cautiously and reached a tentative hand to touch the bars. “They burned you.”
“It will heal. James knows better than to permanently damage me. My keeper, Fynn, holds them fast with threats and payment.”
Gentle was drawn to the cage with the same pull that had led him under the sign and into the carnival. Something pulsed between him and the boy, and just as he knew the men were frightening, he knew this caged being was his friend.
Gentle brushed a finger over his lips and reached into the cage to press the secondhand kiss against one of the blackened burns.
The boy cocked his head to the side like a confused dog, or maybe a bird. “I do not understand this ritual,” he spoke with almost no inflection. He was simply stating a fact, there may have been the barest hint of curiosity, but that was all Gentle could see.
“My mom kisses my hurts to make them better.”
Pale blue eyes narrowed in concentration a moment before the caged boy declared sadly, “This is not true of my race. The pain has not lessened.”
Gentle frowned. “Maybe it doesn’t count if you pass it along with your fingers.” He studied the cage a moment. “Give me your hand.”
Gentle nodded and watched a drop of something foaming and white fall from the boy’s palm. “I think it’s bleeding.”
The strange boy blinked as he uncurled his fingers, four crude crescents were cut into his palm from the man’s jagged fingernails.
Gentle held his hand out for the other boy’s. “Your blood doesn’t look like mine.”
“That is because I am not like you, little human,” he explained patiently. “And I can see no reason for your ritual to be effective.” Nevertheless, he reached his arm out toward Gentle.
As carefully as he could, Gentle placed a kiss upon the bleeding palm of the captive prince. The strange blood pooling tickled his lips. He licked them unthinkingly and made a face. It tasted of cold lake water.
Those pale eyes stared at him, confused.
“It didn’t work,” Gentle guessed.
The captive smiled slightly; it almost made him glow. “Not in the way you meant it to, but I do feel…better. Thank you…”
“Gentle, but my mom calls me Gent, unless she’s mad at me.”
“Both names suit you well, gentle one.”
Gentle smiled back at the boy and asked. “What’s your name?”
“You could not pronounce it, I fear. However, James calls me Little Lord Rags.”
Gentle didn’t want to use such a mean name for his new friend. The distaste must have shown on his face because the hand he was still holding turned to squeeze his softly in comfort.
“Ronan. You may call me Ronan.”
“Ronan.” The name sounded so familiar on his lips. It was that familiarity that forced him to realize he was dreaming.
It was that name that woke him up again.