Spoiler alert: If you haven't finished Hexborn, avert your eyes!
I'm excited to report that I have recently finished the first draft of the Hexborn sequel! Right now I'm working hard on revisions, but I could'nt wait to share a little bit with you. Enjoy!
“Drink it down. I know it’s vile, but drink it all if you want to live.”
Shiloh cradled Hedsin’s head with her silk-clad forearm and held the cup to his cracked lips. The farmer looked up at her with skeptical eyes, but he did as she had bid him, a little of the disgusting concoction dripping onto Shiloh’s glove.
“Might’ve been kinder to slit my throat, my lady,” he coughed.
She smiled down at him indulgently, but grim lines framed her pink eyes. “Now, now. In a few days, when you’re bouncing that new grandson on your knee, you won’t feel the same, I’ll warrant.”
Shiloh straightened her back and squared her shoulders. “I must get on to the next afflicted house,” she told Hedsin’s wife, Deenah. “Make sure you and yours keep your charms pinned to your clothes at all times, lest this spread to the rest of you. At. All. Times.” She held the woman’s eyes with stern resolve.
“Yes, my lady,” Deenah replied, bobbing her head and wringing her hands. “Thank you, my lady.”
“You are most welcome.” Shiloh handed her three ribbons and pulled her away from her husband’s sickbed. She lowered her voice to continue, “Now, tie the black one on the door if he dies. The red one if someone else shows symptoms, so I can bring the medicine. The white when he recovers. That means no fever for twenty-four hours.”
Deenah nodded. “How many are sick in the village?” she asked anxiously.
Shiloh inhaled deeply. “Three dozen. Plus five in the monastery, and four in the castle. A dozen more in the barracks, maybe more. I hear it’s terrible in Gerne. That’s probably where it started. I had a letter from my lord husband to that effect.”
Deenah traced a circle on her forehead. “Gods preserve us,” she breathed.
“Indeed,” Shiloh agreed, tracing her own circle. “Gods preserve us.”
“Go back to your homes,” Shiloh ordered, her voice hoarse but resolute.
She stood on the back of a hay wagon, wand in hand, cold wind snapping her purple headscarf behind her with a loud crack. Northgate Castle stood behind her, dark and lurking against the pink of dawn. Several dozen frightened villagers stood before her, attempting to flee the plague that had swept in from the north.
“We’re not going to stay here to die, my lady!” one of the men yelled. Shiloh could hear some of them saying, “Abomination!” under their breath.
“Do as I tell you, and you won’t,” Shiloh spat back. “Wear the protective charms I gave you. Boil your water. Cook all your food through. Stay inside. Mark your door if any of your folk take ill, and I will send medicine. If you leave this place and grow ill, there will be no help for you. You will die in the woods, alongside the road, in the cold. No other village will let you through their walls. They know you’ve been exposed to the Red Fever. They know, because I sent word to every settlement within a hundred and fifty miles.”
Some in the mob began to look at each other, uncertain in the face of their lady’s opposition.
“I know you’re afraid,” Shiloh said more gently. “But I assure you the gifted sisters at the monastery and I are doing all we can to protect you. And I cannot allow you to spread this pestilence south and east. I will not. The safety of this kingdom depends on stopping the fever here.”
Her wand began to glow, and the crowd, as one, took a wary step backward.
“I survived the Red Fever as a child, a crippled and sickly child at that. If I could, so can you. Go home, for the Gods’ sakes. You’ll be safer there. I promise.”
“And if we don’t?” someone called belligerently.
“Then make yourselves comfortable here in the dirt, because you are going nowhere.” Shiloh raised her wand and hummed, and a shimmering dome filled the sky, encasing the castle and its surrounding village, forming a glowing barrier that began a few dozen yards from where they stood. A fearful murmur rustled like dead leaves. Some of the children whimpered, which nearly broke Shiloh’s heart.
“I wouldn’t touch that if I were you,” she warned them, sheathing her wand. “Not if you’re fond of your hands. Now, I have more than enough work to do, between saving your neighbors and chasing off Gernish raiders. Don’t bother me with this foolishness again, and thank the Gods I’m a patient girl. If my husband were here, make no mistake, he’d have killed at least one of you for an example. Go home.”
She jumped down from the cart and strode through the crowd, head high and heart pounding. To her immense relief, they opened to make her a path. Most of them even bowed a respectful head.
“Would that really take off a hand?” Brother Charls whispered in her ear as he fell in beside her for the walk back to the castle.
Shiloh snorted. “Of course not. I’m powerful, but not powerful enough to keep up something like that without paying attention to it. Besides, one of the children might stumble into it. It’s just a light show.”
Charls swallowed a laugh. “What if they test it?”
“They won’t,” Shiloh asserted with far more confidence than she felt. “They won’t.”