For the Once Upon 2022 celebration, I am offering an exclusive sneak peek at the coming book, The Shadow Elf's Rescuer. Casimir and Veta have just escaped their prison and Casimir is trying to recover from his long imprisonment and torture at the hands of the magus before they go searching for Veta's little brother.
Casimir slept like the dead. Only the rise and fall of his shoulders beneath the blanket I spread over him indicated life.
I sat next to him. My left upper arm still stung where the metal band had been. I guessed I would have a scar because the skin had welted like a burn. Still, I was afraid to touch it for fear of making it worse.
I was more concerned about my companion.
He had dropped us in a small hollow amid a stand of trees. Through the branches, I watched the sunrise. Sheltered as we were, I couldn’t see much. The only sounds around us were of the forest. A rabbit hopped through, stared at Casimir and me, and moved on unperturbed. Squirrels quarreled above us. The wind whispered and teased the treetops, making them bend and dance. Still, Casimir slept.
Weary and hungry, I sat and waited. At midday, the sun finally peeked into our hidden hollow, chasing away the chill and making me sleepy. I curled up back-to-back with the elf and slept.
I woke to someone speaking my name. It took me a moment of blinking to realize that I wasn’t blind, but night had fallen.
“Don’t scream,” Casimir admonished me from nearby.
“I wasn’t planning on it.” I sat up slowly. My blanket was back around my shoulders again. He must have put it there when he woke. “How late is it?”
“Late.” Casimir moved. I couldn’t see him in the pitch darkness, but I heard him. “I overslept. Are you well enough to move?”
“Yes.” I stood. The blanket slipped from my shoulders. I did not attempt to catch it because my legs ached. As I stretched out the muscles, Casimir moved about me in a quick succession of breezes and rustles. “What are you doing?”
He stopped next to me, so close I heard his almost silent breathing. His presence was a warm beacon in the night’s chill. I leaned toward him, stopping myself short of touching him.
He picked up my blanket and settled it around my shoulders without really touching me. “Checking for danger and getting my bearings. We came farther than I expected.” He paused. “Where did you arrange to meet your brother?”
I described the village the magus’ men had stolen me from. “There is a cave in the hillside across the river to the south. We agreed to hide a week in the event of an attack.”
He hesitated. “We can move faster if I carry you. Are you willing for me to do that?”
“I assumed as much considering the last time.” After surviving most of our frantic escape crushed to his chest, I recalled little of him moving us both through a land of shadow and shade. My eyes remained clamped shut for most of the journey.
“My apologies for not asking beforehand.”
“Are you in earnest?” I asked, peering up toward where I guessed his face was. “We were escaping, and time was of the greatest importance.”
“Still, it is generally not acceptable to just pick up a woman and carry her off without asking permission.”
I suppressed a smile. “Permission given.”
He lifted me up and cradled me against his chest. This time his hold was much more comfortable than the crushing grip of our dash the night before. He was warm. I leaned into him, settling against his shoulder.
He cleared his throat. “Are you ready?”
What followed was a blur of shadows sifting in impossible directions, the constant movement of air ruffling my hair, and the steady thump of his heart beneath my ear. Then suddenly, it was over.
“We have arrived.” He lowered my feet to the grass before uttering something in elvish. A ball of silver light blinked into existence over my head.
I blinked in the sudden brightness. The smoking remnants of a dozen cottages surrounded what had been the village center. Not a soul remained in sight. Not that I blamed them. Once a magus raided a village, more raids would follow. Scattering and seeking a new site was the best tactic.
“This direction is south,” Casimir announced, striding toward the river. I ran to catch up with his long-legged pace. I caught up with him as he reached the side of the rushing river. It was wider than I recalled. We would have to swim.
“Come.” Casimir caught my hand, leading me back to the darker shade of the oak tree behind us. The moment his foot touched the margin of the shadow, the glow above my head winked out, and we stepped into pitch blackness. Then my next step was out from the shadow of a towering pine a solid dozen feet from the river on the southern side. The magic globe blinked into existence again.
I stumbled to a halt. “How do you pick the shadow to walk into?” I asked.
“What?” Casimir had already released my hand and was investigating the beginning of a trail.
“How do you know where you are going? The step between is pitch black.”
He straightened in surprise before regarding me consideringly. “It isn’t to me.”
“So, you know exactly where to step when you wraithwalk?”
“Yes.” He smiled an infinitesimal flash of white in the shadows of his features. “It is interesting to know you cannot see the paths I can.”
“Not that surprising, though.” My toe caught a rock as I picked my way across the uneven ground to his side. “I am blind as a bat without this light.”
“I noticed.” He led the way deeper into the forest. “You keep giving quizzical looks to the air around my head.”
“I can’t help it that I am not used to your height or sense your orientation.”
“Especially since I cannot get away from an awareness of your location.” His musing tone made me wonder what he meant by that, but I forgot to ask him. The large boulder marking the opening of Orin’s and my hiding place came into sight.
“Orin!” I called as I ran up the hill. Thankfully the light followed me as I scrambled through the narrow opening on my hands and knees. My nose filled with the moist scents of dirt and darkness. To my disappointment, the small crawl space was empty.