I wanted to give everyone a look at the cover of my new book! This work (and the terrific tag-line that goes with it) was done by Ryan Twomey and I cannot thank him enough for all his hard work on my behalf!
Not sure you want to order WEATHERCOCK? Well, here’s the first chapter to whet your appetite:
Ren’s eyes flashed open underground. She lay still, feigning sleep, her breath slow and regular, and wondered what it was that had woken her.
The fire in her small hearth, long since gone to embers, pulsed a faint ruddy glow against the shadows that filled the room. On the rug beside the bed, lean piebald shanks twitching as he chased phantom sheep, Jak lay undisturbed. That was evidence enough that there was no real danger, so what had roused her in the deep hours of the night?
She sat up to listen and heard only her heartbeat. Nothing ordinary or otherwise stirred in the great warren of caves and tunnels her people called home. All seemed well.
But she was awake.
She lay down again and knew at once that it was a lost cause. Sleep had fled, not to be recaptured that night. Sitting up, she ran a hand through her hair, scratched the back of her neck, and sighed. “Bugger all,” she muttered, and threw the covers back.
Jak looked up the instant her feet hit the floor and blinked sleepy dog eyes at her, clearly wondering what the deuce had possessed her to rise at this hour. “Peace, Jak,” she murmured, letting him know it was none of his concern. That might be, but canine loyalty demanded he follow her from the tiny sleeping alcove into the slightly larger main room where he curled up on the hearth rug and sighed deeply, much put-upon.
Stepping over him, Ren stirred the coals with a long iron poker and tossed a couple of logs onto the fire. She swirled the contents of the kettle, added water from a wooden ewer to the dregs of last night’s tea, and placed it over the flames. Hooking a short-legged stool with one foot, she dragged it close to the hearth and sat down with her shirt-tail hanging between her knees.
Her spartan living quarters held little beyond the basic necessities of her shepherding life – a low square table, some cushions on which to sit, and several thick woven rugs. A goat-skin bag hung from a small promontory of rock that curled from the cave wall like a beckoning finger. Beneath it leaned her crook, the wood polished to a natural gloss by generations of hands. Tucked into a corner near the curtained doorway were a longbow and a quiver of arrows, a pair of snowshoes, and a set of narrow wooden skis with poles. Shelves hewn from the rock walls held clothing, tools, and an assortment of odds and ends. A slender ledge above the fire displayed a collection of stream-tumbled stones, hawk feathers, and other gifts given to her by her grandchildren.
As she waited for the kettle to boil, Ren picked at the knee of her breeches where the material was almost worn through and wondered what this day would bring. There was a list of chores longer than her arm, but most of them would have to wait or get passed on to someone else. Her first duty, as soon as it was light, was to hike down the mountain to the village of Cadasbyr and learn what news they had to share. Rumors of evil behavior on the part of Queen Kedar Trevelyan had seeped north from the royal city of Caerluel. Were the stories of her depredations true or was it all just talk created by idle gossips to stir the soup and pass the time? Ren had to know the truth beyond any doubt. The safety of her people – particularly the men – depended upon it.
Steam curled from the kettle’s spout in a lazy ribbon, bringing the welcome scent of hot tea. In stocking feet, she left her seat and crossed the room to take a pottery mug from the shelf. As her fingers closed around her favorite (glazed in blue with a belly as fat as a friar’s), the wood in the fireplace gave a sudden loud SNAP. She flinched at the noise (a tad jumpy, aren’t you Ren?) and dropped the mug, which landed on the one bit of stone floor not covered by a rug, breaking the handle. “Damn it all t’ –”
Behind her, Jak growled.
Ren turned around fast, the mug forgotten, but there was no one in the room except her and the dog. He crouched on the rug as if to spring and stared at the fire with the fixed ‘eye’ he used to control sheep. His top lip quivered.
“What d’ ye ken, Jak?” she said softly. She knew better than to question his instincts.
The dog whined and the tip of his tail wavered. He crouched lower, haunches bunched, finding his balance, ready to spring. His intent gaze flicked her way for an instant and then riveted back on the fire, telling her in the only way he knew how that something was there.
Nothing was there.
Without looking away, Ren reached behind her and felt for the crook leaning against the wall. Taking it in both hands, balanced as a quarterstaff, she moved forward.
The hearthstone, raked coals, and burning logs all looked as they had a moment before. The tea kettle was blasting steam and she used the end of her crook to swing aside the iron arm from which it hung. That was when she saw it.
The log whose pitch-filled knot had snapped in the heat had shifted, knocking free a spray of grey ash across the hearthstone. Printed in the ash was the four-clawed track of a rooster. It was larger than that of a normal bird, but there was no mistaking it for anything else, no means by which Ren might explain away its appearance as she would the pictures in a cloud. The spoor lay as clear as if the beast had just strutted its way across the hearth, but there was no animal present save the dog.
Ren’s heart gave a funny little hitch, a conflicted blend of fear and joy, and she sank to her knees. Snatches of old songs, portents, and prophecies cascaded through her mind so fast she could not catch hold of a single one. Reaching out, she held her open hand above the sharp definition of those claws…
…then slapped her palm down, scattering ash and obliterating the sign.
The jumble of logs in the grating erupted as if kicked from within and a curtain of sparks flew into her face. Ren cried out and fell back, one hand raised to shield her eyes, the other clenched deep in the fur of Jak’s ruff to hold back the lunging, wildly barking dog. Cinders fell around them like falling stars, singeing holes in the rugs. Ren went after them on her hands and knees, patting furiously to extinguish them before they could blaze to life.
When all that remained were dots of ash and the smell of charred wool, she sat back on her heels and looked once more at the hearth. What she saw there sent a convulsive shudder down the length of her back and buried cold fingers at the base of her spine.
A scattering of embers had landed on the hearthstone where the swipe of Ren’s hand through the ash was still apparent. They clustered in bright, pulsing glory along specific lines, giving her no option to deny their message. Here was the uplift of mighty wings, the curved stroke of an open beak, and a twinkling gallinaceous eye.
Ren’s heart lurched in her chest with an enormous thump! She pulled Jak into her lap and held him close. “I dinna ken I’m ready for this,” she whispered to the image as it slowly faded into grey, dead clinkers. “But I promise I’ll gie it my best go.” A smile whispered across her lips, turning her mouth up at the corners, and she buried her face in the dog’s soft fur.
WEATHERCOCK — 277 pages chockablock with adventure — can be ordered directly from the author. (Web-ordering coming soon!) Send check or money order in the amount of $21.99 ($16.99 + $5 p/h) to: .Melissa Crandall, PO Box 275, Quaker Hill, CT 06375, USA. PLEASE NOTE: CT AND MA ORDERS, ADD APPROPRIATE TAX (6% for CT; 6.25 for MA).
All books will be signed and please let me know if you would like it personalized as well. And thank you!!!