Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones. This is an absorbing fantasy filled with music and magic. Today, I am very pleased to bring you an excerpt. Once you read it, you’ll definitely want more!
Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
Published by Macmillan on February 7, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
All her life, nineteen-year-old Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, mysterious Goblin King. He is the Lord of Mischief, the Ruler Underground, and the muse around which her music is composed. Yet, as Liesl helps shoulder the burden of running her family’s inn, her dreams of composition and childish fancies about the Goblin King must be set aside in favor of more practical concerns.
But when her sister Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl journeys to their realm to rescue her sister and return her to the world above. The Goblin King agrees to let Käthe go—for a price. The life of a maiden must be given to the land, in accordance with the old laws. A life for a life, he says. Without sacrifice, nothing good can grow. Without death, there can be no rebirth. In exchange for her sister’s freedom, Liesl offers her hand in marriage to the Goblin King. He accepts.
Down in the Underground, Liesl discovers that the Goblin King still inspires her—musically, physically, emotionally. Yet even as her talent blossoms, Liesl’s life is slowly fading away, the price she paid for becoming the Goblin King’s bride. As the two of them grow closer, they must learn just what it is they are each willing to sacrifice: her life, her music, or the end of the world.
Excerpt from Chapter One courtesy of Macmillan
Beware the Goblin Men,” Constanze said. “And the wares they sell.”
I jumped when my grandmother’s shadow swept across my notes, scattering my thoughts and foolscap along with it. I scrambled to cover my music, shame shaking my hands, but Constanze hadn’t been addressing me. She stood perched on the threshold, scowling at my sister, Käthe, who primped and preened before the mirror in our bedroom— the only mirror in our entire inn.
“Listen well, Katharina.” Constanze pointed a gnarled finger at my sister’s reflection. “Vanity invites temptation, and is the sign of a weak will.”
Käthe ignored her, pinching her cheeks and fluffing her curls.“Liesl,” she said, reaching for a hat on the dressing table. “Could you come help me with this?”
I put my notes back into their little lock box. “It’s a market, Käthe, not a ball. We’re just going to pick up Josef’s bows from Herr Kassl’s.”
“Liesl,” Käthe whined. “Please.”
Constanze harrumphed and thumped the floor with her cane, but my sister and I paid her no heed. We were used to our grand mother’s dour and direful pronouncements.
I sighed. “All right.” I hid the lockbox beneath our bed and rose to help pin the hat to Käthe’s hair.
The hat was a towering confection of silk and feathers, a ridiculous affectation, especially in our little provincial village. But my sister was also ridiculous, so she and the hat were well matched.
“Ouch!” Käthe said as I accidentally jabbed her with a hatpin. “Watch where you stick that thing.”
“Learn to dress yourself, then.” I smoothed down my sister’s curls and settled her shawl so that it covered her bare shoulders. The waist of her gown was gathered high beneath her bosom, the simple lines of her dress showing every curve of her figure. It was, Käthe claimed, the latest fashion in Paris, but my sister seemed scandalously unclothed to my eyes.
“Tut.” Käthe preened before her reflection. “You’re just jealous.”
I winced. Käthe was the beauty of our family, with sunshine hair, summer- blue eyes, apple- blossom cheeks, and a buxom figure. At seventeen, she already looked like a woman full- grown, with a small waist and generous hips that her new dress showed off to great advantage. I was nearly two years older but still looked like a child: small, thin, and sallow. The little hob goblin, Papa called me. Fey, was Constanze’s pronouncement. Only Josef ever called me beautiful. Not pretty, my brother would say. Beautiful.
“Yes, I’m jealous,” I said. “Now are we going to the market or not?”
“In a bit.” Käthe rummaged through her box of trinkets. “What do you think, Liesl?” she asked, holding up a few lengths of ribbon. “Red or blue?”
“Does it matter?”
She sighed. “I suppose not. None of the village boys will care anymore, now that I’m to be married.” She glumly plucked at the trim on her gown. “Hans isn’t the sort for fun or finery.”
My lips tightened. “Hans is a good man.”
“A good man, and boring,” Käthe said. “Did you see him at the dance the other night? He never, not once, asked me to take a turn with him. He just stood in the corner and glared disapprovingly.”
It was because Käthe had been flirting shamelessly with a handful of Austrian soldiers en route to Munich to oust the French. Pretty girl, they coaxed her in their funny Austrian accents, Come give us a kiss!
“A wanton woman is ripened fruit,” Constanze intoned, “begging to be plucked by the Goblin King.”
A frisson of unease ran up my spine. Our grand mother liked to scare us with tales of goblins and other creatures that lived in the woods beyond our village, but Käthe, Josef, and I hadn’t taken her stories seriously since we were children. At eighteen, I was too old for my grand mother’s fairy tales, yet I cherished the guilty thrill that ran through me whenever the Goblin King was mentioned. Despite every thing, I still believed in the Goblin King. I still wanted to believe in the Goblin King.
“Oh, go squawk at someone else, you old crow,” Käthe said. She pouted. “Why must you always be pecking at me?”
“Mark my words.” Constanze glared at my sister from beneath layers of yellowed lace and faded ruffl es, her dark brown eyes the only sharp things in her wizened face. “You watch yourself, Katharina, lest the goblins come take you for your licentious ways.”
“Enough, Constanze,” I said. “Leave Käthe alone and let us go on our way. We must be back before Master Antonius arrives.”
“Yes, Heaven forbid we miss our precious little Josef’s audition for the famous violin maestro,” my sister muttered.
“I know, I know.” She sighed. “Stop worrying, Liesl. He’ll be fine. You’re worse than a hen with a fox at the door.”
“He won’t be fine if he doesn’t have any bows to play with.” I turned to leave. “Come, or I’ll be going without you.”
“Wait.” Käthe grabbed my hand. “Would you let me to do a little something with your hair? You have such gorgeous locks; it’s a shame you plait them out of the way. I could—”
“A wren is still a wren, even in a peacock’s feathers.” I shook her off. “ Don’t waste your time. It’s not like Hans—anyone— would notice anyway.”
My sister flinched at the mention of her betrothed’s name. “Fine,” she said shortly, then strode past me without another word.
“Ka—” I began, but Constanze stopped me before I could follow.
“You take care of your sister, girlie,” she warned. “You watch over her.”
“Don’t I always?” I snapped. It had always been up to me—me and Mother—to hold the family together. Mother looked after the inn that was our house and livelihood; I looked after the members who made it home.
“Do you?” My grand mother fixed her dark eyes on my face. “Josef isn’t the only one who needs looking after, you know.” I frowned. “What do you mean?”
“You forget what day it is.” Sometimes it was easier to humor Constanze than to ignore her. I sighed.
“What day is it?”
“The day the old year dies.”
Another shiver up my spine. My grand mother still kept to the old laws and the old calendar, and this last night of autumn was when the old year died and the barrier between worlds was thin. When the denizens of the Underground walked the world above during the days of winter, before the year began again in the spring.
“The last night of the year,” Constanze said. “Now the days of winter begin and the Goblin King rides abroad, searching for his bride.”
I turned my face away. Once I would have remembered without any prompting. Once I would have joined my grandmother in pouring salt along every windowsill, every threshold, every entrance as a precaution against these wildling nights. Once, once, once. But I could no longer afford the luxury of my indulgent imaginings. It was time, as the apostle Paul said to the Corinthians, to put aside childish things. “I don’t have time for this.” I pushed Constanze aside. “Let me pass.”
Sorrow pushed the lines of my grand mother’s face into even deeper grooves, sorrow and loneliness, her hunched shoulders bowing with the weight of her beliefs. She bore those beliefs alone now. None of us kept faith with Der Erlkönig anymore; none save Josef.
“Liesl!” Käthe shouted from downstairs. “Can I borrow your red cloak?”
“Mind how you choose, girl,” Constanze told me. “Josef is not part of the game. When Der Erlkönig plays, he plays for keeps.”
Her words stopped me short. “What are you talking about?” I asked. “What game?”
“You tell me.” Constanze’s expression was grave. “The wishes we make in the dark have consequences, and the Lord of Mischief will call their reckoning.” Her words prickled against my mind. I minded how Mother warned us of Constanze’s aged and feeble wits, but my grand mother had never seemed more lucid or more earnest, and despite myself, a thread of fear began to wind about my throat.
“Is that a yes?” Käthe called. “ Because I’m taking it if so!” I groaned.
“No, you may not!” I said, leaning over the stair rail. “I’ll be right there, I promise!”
“Promises, eh?” Constanze cackled. “You make so many, but how many of them can you keep?”
“What—” I began, but when I turned to face her, my grandmother was gone.