Here you can read sample extracts or chapters from Sarah’s novels.
I can smell burning. The boy woke suddenly, sitting up and staring around the unfamiliar room. Where am I? The darkness was illuminated by a dull red glare. The whine of a wild sea wind rattled the shingles. And the sharp scent of fire tainted the fresh night air.
There was no reply. His mind still fogged by sleep, he saw by the faint glow the abandoned futons where his father and his retainers had been sleeping beside him.
Where has everyone gone?
And then he heard a man shouting at the top of his lungs.
“Is Lord Morimitsu here? I must speak with him!”
The boy crawled to the window and slid it open. The great courtyard outside was filled with shaven-headed monks carrying torches, milling around three men on horseback. By the torchlight, the boy could see that the riders were warriors, armed with swords and bows. The sight of the monks reminded him where he was; his father had brought him to the Tide Dragon temple to be treated by the Master Healer.
“Who wants to speak with me?” His father’s deep voice, rough with lack of sleep, rang out across the courtyard. The boy could see him now, standing at the far side with his men.
The foremost of the three horsemen nudged his steed forward. “I am Toshiro, lord of Akatobi Castle.”
Even as the boy gasped, Lord Morimitsu’s bodyguards drew their swords, the torch flames glinting on the naked steel as they placed themselves before their master. Lord Toshiro was the head of the Red Kites clan and the sworn enemy of his family.
“Lord Morimitsu, I need your help,” said the stranger, and there was raw desperation in his voice. “A forest fire is ravaging my lands. This cursed wind is driving the flames directly toward the castle.”
“My help?” Lord Morimitsu repeated slowly. “What can I do against the forces of nature? I can’t stop the wind from blowing. I could send my men to assist you in evacuating the castle.” He folded his arms across his chest. “But many of my retainers have lost fathers, brothers, and sons to your clansmen. You are asking a great deal of us, my lord.”
Lord Toshiro dismounted, handing the reins of his horse to one of the monks. To the boy’s astonishment, the enemy lord knelt down before his father and bowed until his forehead almost touched the gravel, the kind of obeisance only the poorest peasant would make. Then, raising his head, Lord Toshiro said, “Please, I beg you. The emperor has given you the right to guard the Tide Jewels. Use the Flood Jewel and bring the tide in to quench the flames.”
There had been a low murmur when Lord Toshiro knelt down before Lord Morimitsu but now it grew louder as the monks began to protest.
“Before it’s too late. The castle is cut off by a ring of fire. My wife and children are trapped inside.”
The boy saw the agony in Lord Toshiro’s face. What will my father do?
At that moment the crowd of monks parted to let a white-robed man through.
“Abbot Genko, did you hear what Lord Toshiro just said?” asked Lord Morimitsu.
“Act now.” Lord Toshiro’s voice broke. “All this time the merciless wind has been blowing in from the sea. Soon the castle will be engulfed.”
“Only the emperor can use the Tide Jewels, Lord Toshiro,” said the abbot. “If Lord Morimitsu were to abuse the sanctity of the bond, forged between the dragons of the sea and the imperial family. there would be very serious consequences.”
Lord Toshiro let out a harsh laugh. “Oh, come now, Abbot. We all know that the imperial bloodline has been diluted down the centuries. Both Morimitsu and I have imperial blood in our veins.”
“And even if I could summon the Flood Dragon,” said Lord Morimitsu, “how could I ensure that the tide he brought didn’t drown your family as well as quenching the flames?” The boy bit his lip; he had never heard his father sound so anguished before.
“I’ll take that risk. I’ll even risk summoning the Ebb Dragon to make the waters recede. But, in the name of all the gods, let’s do it now!” Even as Lord Toshiro spoke, another fierce gust of wind swept through the courtyard, setting the monks’ torch flames wildly guttering. The scarlet glow in the sky grew more intense.
“I can’t,” Lord Morimitsu said at length, his voice toneless. “I made a vow to the emperor to protect the jewels. I vowed to never let them be used except to defend Cipangu. I can’t risk the devastation that a flood tide would bring to all the villages along the coast.”
“Then fight me.” Lord Toshiro drew his katana; in the torchlight it seemed to drip gouts of fire. “Fight me for the jewels.” A crazed glint lit his eyes as he advanced toward Lord Morimitsu.
The boy wanted to call out to his father, yet when he opened his mouth no sound came from his dry throat.
The abbot moved to place himself between the two men.
“Have you forgotten where you are, my lord?” he said quietly. “Put down your blade. There will be no bloodshed on sacred ground.”
Lord Toshiro stood silent a moment, staring at his rival. Then he sheathed his sword, and, seizing the reins of his horse, swung himself up into the saddle.
“Why am I wasting my time here?” he cried, turning his horse’s head toward the gates. “Okitane, Yūdai; let’s go.” The other two Kite warriors urged their steeds to follow their master.
“Wait – at least let us come with you to help,” cried the abbot.
“You? You’d only slow us down, old man!” Lord Toshiro cried back over his shoulder. “Don’t think I’ll forget this, Morimitsu! If one – just one – of my family dies because of your cursed vow, the Black Cranes will pay. You’ll pay in blood.”
The boy saw the three horsemen starkly silhouetted against the fiery sky as the monks pulled open the outer gates to let them through. The clatter of the horses’ fast-galloping hooves faded as the roar of another fierce gust of wind swept through the courtyard, sending up little eddies of dust.
Abbot Genko went up to Lord Morimitsu who was standing motionless, still gazing after the horsemen.
“What could I do? My sworn duty to his imperial majesty is to keep the jewels safe,” the boy heard his father say, and there was a catch in his usually steady voice. “If I summoned the Flood Dragon, there’s no telling how many innocent lives would be lost. And there’s no knowing if he would even come to my call.”
“Lord Toshiro is a rash, arrogant man,” said the abbot. “But I’ll send the ox carts out to lend him what aid we can.”
The boy could not bear to stay watching any longer. “Father!” he called. He wanted to run to him, but he couldn’t run anywhere because of his crippled leg.
“Kaito?” Lord Morimitsu turned. “You’re awake?” He strode over and lifted the boy out of the window. “You heard what happened?” The boy nodded. In the open courtyard, the acrid smell of burning was so strong that he half-feared to see flames licking at the roof of the outer buildings of the monastery.
Still carrying him, his father walked to the gates and gazed into the night. Behind them, the monks hurried to and fro, loading up the ox carts with supplies as the grumpily lowing oxen were coaxed into the harnesses.
Kaito saw the flames lighting the horizon where the forest was burning. The sky was filled with clouds of thick smoke, obliterating the stars. Akatobi Castle must lie beyond that wall of fire. He shuddered.
“Will Lord Toshiro’s children die?” he asked, unable to take his eyes away from the conflagration. He felt his father’s arms tighten around him.
“I can only hope that his family was able to escape before the fire reached the castle.”
“Ha! Why waste your sympathy on the Kites?” said a dry voice. Kakumyo, the clan lord’s chief retainer, had come to stand behind them. “Lord Toshiro drew his sword on you. That was unforgivable.” As the ox carts trundled out of the gates, Kakumyo went on, “And that’s the reason why our clan has guardianship of the Tide Jewels, not the Red Kites. How could the emperor trust such a hot-headed, insolent family with the sacred treasures?”
“There was no way I could risk summoning the Tide Dragons,” said Lord Morimitsu, setting Kaito down, “yet I fear that my decision today will only stir up the old enmities between our clans.”
Kakumyo shrugged. “The Kites will be too busy rebuilding to retaliate once the blaze dies down.” He shivered suddenly, turning his gaze toward the sea. “Yet when did this gale change course? And where did it come from so suddenly?”
“You’re right, Lord Kakumyo.” Abbot Genko joined them, shading his eyes with his hand as he looked out toward the rim of flame brightening the horizon. “It looks as if the Kites were taken by surprise. The winds off the sea can be unpredictable. The local fishermen say that the Tide Dragons are angry when a gale like this comes tearing in across the bay without warning.”
Kaito could not take his eyes from the glare of the crimson sky. He was thinking how terrifying it would be to have to flee from the raging flames into the castle tunnels, not knowing if, at the end, there would be any escape from the searing heat and choking smoke. “Did Lord Toshiro make the Tide Dragons angry?”
Kakumyo let out a snort of laughter. “A good question, young lord! Who knows what the Kites have been up to? They’ve been quiet for too long.”
“Naoki! Lord Naoki!” Every time Masao shouted out his young lord’s name, he drew in another choking breath of hot, acrid fumes. One arm raised to protect his streaming eyes, he struggled forward into the smoke-filled courtyard, coughing. The roar of the flames was punctuated by the explosive sound of falling timbers nearby.
His heart thudded painfully with each crash. He was more terrified than he had ever been in his whole thirteen years. Yet he struggled on because Naoki was both his friend and his responsibility; as the young lord’s squire, it was his duty to protect him, even at the cost of his life.
Where are you, Naoki? When the alarm was raised at dusk, the two boys had been playing truant from their afternoon lessons, trying to catch frogs by the stream in the woods.
He remembered looking up and seeing a cloud of fireflies floating above the castle, each little pinprick of fiery light a fleck of gold against the purple sky. The sight was so beautiful that he had stopped to gaze in awe.
“Look, Naoki!” he had said, pointing. “Have you ever seen so many fireflies before?”
Naoki had caught hold of his arm, dragging him onward. “Come on, we’ll be late. And then we’ll get a beating.”
But as they ran back through the trees, they heard the frantic ringing of the alarm bell. By the time they emerged in front of the compound, the sky was bright with flames shooting skywards from the castle towers. And from inside the walls they could hear terrified shouts and cries of confusion.
For a moment they both stood still, unable to grasp what was happening. Then Naoki shot forward, running toward the main gate.
“Mother!” he cried. “Mother’s in the main tower!”
“Come back!” Masao set out after him; Naoki might be younger and shorter, but his neat, wiry frame meant he could beat Masao in any contest of speed.
How has the fire gained control so fast?
By the time Masao reached the gate, Naoki had already plunged inside into the swirling smoke. Masao had no choice but to follow him into the blazing courtyard. Inside, retainers and servants were hurrying to and fro with buckets of water in a vain attempt to extinguish the flames.
A figure loomed up out of the billowing smoke; Masao saw Lord Kiyoshi, Naoki’s older brother, approaching. He was dragging someone by the scruff of the neck.
“Masao!” he called out in a hoarse voice. “Get Naoki out of here. I’m going back for mother.”
He hauled his burden toward Masao, who instinctively opened his arms and caught Naoki as he thudded into him, almost knocking him off his feet.
“No!” cried Naoki, trying to fight free of Masao’s restraining grip. “Kiyoshi – let me help you – ”
“You can’t,” Masao said, dragging Naoki back the way they had come.
But Naoki struggled, fighting to get free. He had become a wild creature, maddened by the flames. “I’ve got to save her!” he yelled.
In desperation, Masao hit him. Hard. Winded, Naoki slumped forward; Masao hoisted his arm over his shoulder and began to half pull, half carry him away. But the courtyard had filled with dark smoke and Masao no longer knew where to find the gate. Tears streamed from his eyes as he struggled on, tripping over buckets abandoned by the servants as they fled the blaze.
His mother was Lady Fumiko’s chief attendant. If Lady Fumiko’s was trapped in the main tower, then his mother was trapped with her. And there was nothing he could do but obey Lord Kiyoshi’s orders and do his best to get Naoki out alive.
He staggered stubbornly onward, weighed down by his burden. The hot smoke burned his nostrils and mouth every time he tried to draw in a breath, searing its way down his throat.
And then he thought he heard distant voices calling to him.
“Masao – this way!”
The last thing he remembered seeing was the dazzling cloud of fiery sparks rising in the air above the flames, so bright against the inky night sky.
“Just…like the fireflies…” he murmured. And then he toppled forward into a pit of black smoke.
Kaito had almost been lulled into a doze by the steady onward trot of his father’s horse through the gathering dusk. He leaned back against Lord Morimitsu’s broad chest, grateful for the support, and felt his father’s arm tighten protectively around him.
Yet even though he was tired after the disturbance in the night, he could not forget the healer’s parting words.
“I’m afraid the damage to your son’s leg is past my skills; he’s made extraordinary progress in the last year, but he’ll never walk without a pronounced limp.”
Or run. Or be swift enough to wield a sword in battle, at my brother Takeru’s side.
Master Seishi’s verdict had been blunt. Kaito would have to learn to live with his disability. No amount of skilled manipulation or painful splinting would restore the withered muscles.
“Even now the fires are still smoldering. And yet this western side of the forest is untouched,” Lord Morimitsu was saying to his retainers. “That fierce wind off the sea drove the flames straight toward the Akatobi domain.”
“They say the goddess Inari protects these lands,” came back Kakumyo’s voice from further along the forest track. “Perhaps the Kites angered her in some way…”
“But how did Lord Toshiro know to find us at the temple?”
“Spies,” said the general brusquely. “Even now, they may be watching us. The Kites are still using Shadow skills, even though the emperor banned them.”
Kaito felt a sudden unfamiliar sensation that set his skin crawling.
“Father – ” he began sleepily.
Suddenly the forest track was filled with the fierce, fast beating of wings. Glancing upward, Kaito had the impression that a host of predatory birds was swooping down on them from the topmost branches. He flung up his arms instinctively to protect his face.
“Ambush!” yelled General Kakumyo.
They were surrounded by dark-garbed men whose sword blades gleamed dully in the twilight. One came directly toward Lord Morimitsu. In the dying light, Kaito recognized Lord Toshiro, although his face was haggard, streaked with cinder smuts and dried blood.
“She’s dead. And my eldest, Kiyoshi, too. So many dead in the flames. Now you must pay, Morimitsu no Kurozuro.”
“Kakumyo!” cried Lord Morimitsu, drawing his sword. “Get my son out of here!”
Before Kaito could even cry out, he felt himself grabbed by strong arms and swung over onto the saddle of another horse. A hail of deadly shuriken rained down around them as Kakumyo dug his heels into his steed’s flanks. Kaito heard the general give a muffled cry of pain as the horse careered wildly away along the path. Something wet and warm dripped onto Kaito’s head; glancing up at Kakumyo, he saw that the right side of his face was streaming with blood from a jagged shuriken-gash above his eye.
“Kakumyo,” he whispered, terrified, clinging to the horse’s mane as the wild headlong gallop continued. “Father.” His last memory of that nightmare ride was the clash and rasp of katana blades in the fading twilight counterpointed against the thud of the horse’s hoofs…
The Wouivres are in danger. Only Josse can save them. But to do so, he must face the most powerful adversary he’s ever encountered in his young life.
Chapter 6 of Drakomancer can be read here.
And to see some wonderful new artwork by Marcelle Natisin inspired by Drakomancer, please click on:
Chapter 5 has now been moved to its proper place – after Chapter 4! – in Work in Progress.
More new Drakomancer will follow very soon…
Returning to the world of ‘Drakomancer’ (original working title ’A Shiver of Silver’) I couldn’t resist adding a link (with the artist’s kind permission) to some sketches that she drew when musing about Kaspar Linnaius’s obscure and mysterious origins. (And Kaspar Linnaius would be the last man to reveal anything about himself and his childhood, even to his emperor!) So ‘Drakomancer’ is my response to readers, like Marcelle, who asked me for more about the Magus (I wanted to find out more too!)
Times are not easy for the mid-list writer at the moment. But I’m so heartened to hear from readers that they are enjoying the Artamon stories – thank you for getting in touch! And, as I mentioned earlier this year, I’m slowly, steadily writing Book 4, the direct sequel about Gavril abd Kiukiu that follows on after the end of Children of the Serpent Gate. More news – and another extract – soon!
There’s also another fantasy novel ‘out there’ doing the rounds – I haven’t been idle! – and then there’s Drakomancer. I began to write this under the title A Shiver of Silver three years ago (for reasons that will soon become clear) with fans of Kaspar Linnaius in mind.
Drakomancer is set in Francia (or, to be accurate, a little kingdom of Francia called Sapaudie) and in Allegonde at least a hundred and twenty years or so before Lord of Snow and Shadows takes place. It’s not finished – but if I have enough reader interest, I’ll be happy to continue it.
So rather than have these first chapters languishing unread on my hard drive any longer, I’ve decided to share them with any readers who would like to try another story set in the world of Artamon. I’m putting up the first chapter here for starters. If you would like to read Chapter 2, please contact me via the contact page and let me know. (One chapter every month for starters…)
Seven, They Were Seven, the Dark Angels of Destruction
Sardion, Arkhan of Enhirre, stared up at the watch fires burning on the battlements of the ancient fortress of Ondhessar. For centuries it had towered over the desert, his country’s strongest bastion against invaders, concealing a priceless treasure in its vaults: the shrine dedicated to Azilis, the Eternal Singer. For centuries it had been his family’s sacred duty to protect the sacred Lodestar that housed her spirit, aided by the secret sect of the magi of Ondhessar, his Emissaries.
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The Aethyr Vox stood on Magister Linnaius’s desk collecting dust. It had stood there for many weeks, awaiting its inventor’s return. And Rieuk Mordiern, Linnaius’s apprentice, had been assigned to cleaning duties again. With a feather duster, he began to clean the delicate mechanism.
“Apprentice alchymist? Unpaid servant, more like,” he muttered to the empty laboratory.
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‘I’m old.’ Kiukiu stared in disbelief at her reflection. ‘I’m an old woman.’ Her fingertips moved over her lined face, lifting her wild, dry locks of greying hair, searching in vain for a thread of gold. She was so shocked she could only stare at the ageing stranger in the mirror glass. ‘How long was I gone?’
‘Many days, my dear.’ Malusha had never called her ‘my dear’ before. That in itself made Kiukiu even more fearful. ‘Too many days.’
‘There’s a remedy, isn’t there, Grandma?’ She turned to Malusha. ‘Tell me what to do, I’ll do it. No matter what it is.’
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Gavril Nagarian, Lord Drakhaon of Azhkendir, entered Saint Sergius’s shrine and closed the door softly behind him. Flames from ochre beeswax candles shimmered in the gloom. The air smelled of bitter incense and honeyed candlesmoke.
The radiant figure of the Blessed Sergius dominated the ancient mural, staff upraised to defend his flock from the dark Drakhaon. Even the saint’s face had been covered with gold leaf by the artist. In contrast, only the Drakhaon’s eyes glinted in the candlelight, jewelled with chips of blue glass. The rest of his winged daemon-form had been painted black as shadow.
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The Clan Lord lies dying, his eyes wandering, glazing over as he reaches out blindly to grasp his lieutenant’s arm.
‘Over…at last…old friend…’ The hand falls away, his grizzled head lolls sideways, sightless eyes sliding upwards, clear at last, as if a dark veil has melted away.
And as his faithful friend watches, his sight dimmed with tears, he sees -
A shadow, black as a stormcloud, slowly rise from the still body of his master, lift and gather itself until it hovers over him: a great winged daemon-serpent, terrible and puissant.
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Schimeon the Tailor’s workroom was hot with the steam of pressing irons heating on the fire.
Rahab set down his heavy bundle of swatches and peeled off his jacket.
‘Ouf,’ he said, wiping his face on his sleeve.
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Khassian lay watching the raindrops slowly trickle down the unshuttered windowpanes. Beyond, a rain mist hid the distant green hillside from view. Did it always rain at this accursed spa? It had been raining since before dawn; he had lain awake listening to the drops pattering against the windows until the first wet light illumined his room.
Sleep eluded him. Whenever he drifted into a doze, images of flame and fire scored his dreams and he woke, sweating, terrified. There were other dreams too, drugged dreams, poppy-drowsed and darkly narcotic. Teetering on the edge of a black abyss, a stinking pit from whose smoke-wreathed deeps shrouded things crawled, clawing at him, threatening to pull him down into the depths.
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Springtide on Ael Lahi.
Dusktide washing the pale sands.
Lai Dhar scanned the twilit bay. The seashore was, as he had hoped, empty. No one would hear him here if he sneaked one last practice before the new moon rose.
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