THE FAERIE HOUNDS OF YORK is now available to buy in ebook and paperback, and free to read in KU.
Read an excerpt from the first chapter below:
CHAPTER ONE: THE FAERIE RING
Loxley woke cold and stiff. He was not in his bed but on the ground outside, his clothes crisp with frost, and with moss tousled in his hair. His fingers ached, and he unfurled them slowly as he rose to his hands and knees. Hurting all over, his back protested with every movement, and his neck was sore, his coat collar chafing the skin. As if filled with fog, his mind was curiously blank, and his thoughts were slow to return to him.
Something was wrong.
The purple heather was flattened where he had lain; the sky above stretched pale and grey in all directions. It was just past dawn, the November air chill and damp. But more troubling than his location in the heathered moors was the ring of mushrooms that encircled him where he knelt.
An instinctive fear flared in him at the sight, and his breath stuttered as he froze in his attempt to rise. The mushrooms grew on thick, cream-coloured stalks, their caps broad and brown and speckled with pale teardrop markings. Though they did not form an intimidating physical border, growing only a few inches tall, he did not dare break their circle.
Lowering himself back down, he examined one in closer detail. Wild mushrooms were nothing uncommon, and he had even spotted rings before—they were said to spring up around sources of rot, all superstition aside—but he had never been so foolish as to step into one. They were rarely seen in England; indeed, almost unheard of in his day and age, and it was generally accepted that such old magic had long since returned to its deep slumber beneath the earth.
“I wouldn’t touch that, if I were you.”
Loxley flinched, twisting around to face the speaker.
A man sat some yards away under a tree beyond the circle’s border, a gnarl of roots his throne, with one long leg crossed over the other, a pipe in hand. The tree’s leaves were fiery copper, and its canopy was resplendent with a host of bright red apple-like berries, which lay scattered across the ground at the man’s feet. It was a hawthorn tree, a sight that tugged at Loxley’s foggy memory, and the only one to be seen from one horizon to the other. A faerie tree, he’d heard them called, when they stood alone in a field without another living thing for company. A sign of something old and powerful, best avoided.
The man sitting amongst its roots regarded Loxley with a calm, almost indifferent air, as if he hadn’t a care in the world.
“Well, of course I wasn’t going to touch it,” Loxley said. Whether he believed the old stories or not, he had woken far from home, and the haze in his mind troubled him. Something strange was afoot, and he had no desire to learn firsthand what happened to a soul who broke a faerie ring. “I don’t suppose you know how I got here?”
“No, but I can guess.” The man took a drag from his pipe; the smoke smelled sweet and spicy.
“Do you know how I might get out again?” Loxley kept his voice purposefully light, to avoid giving strength to his fear. But he could not keep the tremor from his words when he added, “Only, I don’t particularly care to be cursed or have my soul stolen away, if I can at all avoid it.”
“No,” said the man shortly, “you do not.”
He tapped the ash from his pipe onto the roots beside him before rising to his feet and approaching the ring. Loxley rose to meet him. Despite the circumstance of their meeting, Loxley was quite certain that the stranger was not, himself, one of the Fair Folk. Though the scent of spiced incense clung to his clothes like magic, his face was too rugged to be anything but human, and his clothes too travel-worn to have any hint of glamour about them. He was of Loxley’s height, though broader across the shoulders, and seemed broader still by the cut of his coat. He had brown skin and long, dark hair barely held in check by a tie at the nape of his neck, which made him look to be one of the Romanichal people, though he lacked the bright colours of their dress. Coming to a halt before Loxley and taking care not to step within the circle, he looked Loxley up and down. His eyes were dark as coal, and from Loxley’s closer vantage point, now seemed more curious than indifferent.
“You’re not from here,” he observed.
His accent was thickly northern, his vowels flat and his tone lazily impersonal. He looked Loxley over with a clearly judgemental eye, though whatever opinion he formed, he kept it to himself. His brusqueness seemed born from a lack of regular conversation rather than a dislike of it, and Loxley could forgive a man for that more easily than he could forgive intentional rudeness.
“I was born here,” Loxley corrected, faintly, “though I’ve spent my adult years in London, it’s true. I came north because—” There was an uncomfortable gap in his memory where reason ought to have sat. “Where am I, exactly? These are the moors—”
“You’re in Yorkshire, and it pays to take more care here.”
A shiver ran through Loxley’s frame, as if a cool breeze had found its way under his coat to run its fingers down his spine. “Are you talking about magic?” he asked in hushed tones. “But no one has seen one of the Fair Folk in centuries!”
“Not outside of Scotland or Ireland, it’s true. Certainly not in London. But man-made borders hold no meaning for the Folk. I’ve been alive these past four decades and more, yet you’ve never seen me before today. Did I not exist, either?”
“That’s different. I have seen other men, after all. Where are the Fair Folk, if they have been present in England all this time?”
The man shrugged. “I did not say faeries themselves were common, only that their magic has never left the land. I’m no scholar; I can only tell you what I’ve seen. And I’ve seen magic. It lingers in the tree roots and the season’s first frost. It’s deep in the earth—though not so far out of reach as you might think.” He bared his teeth in a smile. “This is the north. The land is still half wild up here. It remembers how things used to be.”
“You speak of the north as if it were a separate country,” Loxley whispered. “We are still in England, are we not?”
“We are. And you’re right. No one just wanders into a faerie ring, Londoner or not. You’ve been played foul, and foulness is clinging to you still.”
Loxley’s throat was dry, his head throbbing; he must have spent all night on the moors, his head filled with that fog to keep him from waking. But how on earth had he got out there in the first place? It was as if he’d been snatched from his bed: he was still dressed in his nightclothes, under his coat, and his feet were bare in their boots. He swallowed down his fear. There would be time to dwell on such questions later, once he was clear of the danger he had so unwittingly stumbled into. “What foulness?”
“Step out between these two here,” the man said, ignoring his query to point to two particular mushrooms at Loxley’s feet. They didn’t look any different from the others, and Loxley hesitated, torn between the intrinsic fear of breaking the ring and the threat of foul play upon his person. The man rolled his eyes. “Sooner than later, if you please.”