Salya’s life is made of simple things; a dance around a bonfire, the small blue flowers that grow by the road, a pledge to become a healer like her grandmother before her.
But then she finds the man, half dead, in the bushes by the stream.
“Bren,” he tells her before succumbing to blood poisoning, and his disease is not the only thing Salya and her small band of traders find they are fighting. Where before the nights were quiet, there are secret police. Where before the forests were filled with birds, now there is a dark figure following the wagon train as it wends through the cold mountain passes.
When Bren awakes, he has a story to tell. He is a spy with information about an assassination attempt on the queen of the white city, and now he is too injured to take the news across the mountains alone. Salya must choose: let Bren journey to the kingdom of Kwed, alone, hunted, and wounded; or abandon her family in the scant hope that together they will be able to save the kingdom before the assassins strike.
Blue Gentian is a 63,000-word, coming-of-age Young Adult Fantasy full of queens, small wagons in an open field, and a subversive print shop. It is about juggling the weight of family expectation while learning to follow your own path. Release date is May 30, 2018. To pre-order your copy, click here.
And in the mean time, please enjoy the first chapter:
The boys built the bonfire where they always did: west of camp, nearer to the creek that flowed thin in the summer swelter, but still with room for the Travelers to dance around. Salya watched them prop the wood together from where she sat in the booth of the marketplace. They stacked the branches in a triangle that reached higher than a human, on the blackened earth of a thousand fires that had come before. This shouldn’t have been any different than the other bonfires, but it was. This one was for Salya. This one was for the first ceremony of her Handcalling. She saw it rise with her heartbeat in her stomach.
The marketplace was busy around her. Stretching away in a line stood two rows of wooden booths with white canvas tops. Colored bits of cloth on string tied the poles of the booths to each other. The makeshift flags fluttered in the breeze. Inside each stall was a collection of rainbow goods. Punched tin creations in one, fur coats and gloves in another, glossy furniture, bolts of bright fabric, vibrant weavings, the herbs and bottles of medicine that stretched on the shelves behind Salya and her sister Vadie.
Salya offered a thin smile to the few trickles of shoppers who weren’t driven away by the heat, and kept pounding the pestle into the collection of herbs in the mortar. Vadie shifted beside her and sighed. It was hours since Mother had come from the mottled shadows that fell across the ring of wagons in the distance and filled their water bucket a second time.
The wagons beyond the market, their homes, were dust covered and pitted from their many trips over the mountains between Kwed and Nelinah, trading goods intact. There was something beautiful about even the marks as their shingled sides caught the afternoon light. Each wagon was a family, and each family was full of faces Salya had known her whole life, faces that filled the booth beside her, faces that would join as she pledged her profession tonight.
A cloud of dust swirled, and the tepid breeze flowed over her sweaty shoulders.
“What would you do if you could do anything?” Vadie broke the long silence.
An unfair question. Salya let it hang between them as she pondered options that would never matter now that she had made a choice.
The boys stacking wood in the distance wavered in the heat that rose from the ground as they moved to and fro. Vadie sat on the small folding chair, her feet tucked beneath her, lazing backward.
A tight bud of annoyance settled in Salya’s chest. She pounded the pestle harder into the herbs.
“So…?” Vadie waved her hand.
“You know it doesn’t matter, thinking like that. I’m being Handcalled as a healer. Tonight is the declaration. And that is the end of the tale, three apples fall from the sky. Wants don’t feed in famine. I’ve made my choice.”
“Well, I’m going to marry a trader boy just as soon as someone asks me. And he’ll build me a new wagon all golden wood,” said Vadie. “That’s what I’d do if I could do anything in the world.”
“They hardly ever make new wagons.”
“They will for me.”
“Sure they will.”
“You don’t need to be mean.”
“I… Never mind.”
Salya wondered again if she was making a mistake, apprenticing herself to her grandmother. She could just pick out tiny, white-haired Amma amongst the handful of adults around the cook fire in the center of the wagon circle. They all looked like flowers, blowing in the breeze, from this far away. But Amma’s tight silver bun marked her where she stood talking to Torreb.
His giant, bearlike qualities made him a formidable caravan leader until you got to know him and realized he was more growl than swipe. Amma was the one with the iron will.
Vadie huffed, and turned her attention to the woman who walked up to the booth.
“Do you sell something for joints?” the woman asked. “My father’s hands hurt him sometimes, and he has a hard time doing things with them; pinching.”
Salya stood and handed Vadie a square glass bottle with the picture of a tree drawn on the front. Inside were several long strips of bark.
Vadie took the bottle, and gave it to the woman. “Make a tea and have him drink morning and noon. Three Sil, please.”
The woman dropped three silver coins into Vadie’s outstretched hand.
“Thank you.” Vadie put them in a hollow in the wooden cash box. The woman tucked the bottle into a pocket in the folds of her long skirt and walked away.
The sun sank behind the brown hills in the distance. The earth turned to a gray twilight.
Salya and Vadie closed the cash box with a snap and placed it on the center of the table. One of the boys would come and collect it, to store the money in the supply wagon with everyone else’s. Salya brushed the herb crumbs off the table and onto the dirt floor. She and Vadie grabbed their wide-brim hats.
Rusak, curly dark hair silhouetted by the setting sun, came rolling up the path with the wheelbarrow.
“Rusak!” said Salya.
“My best girls. Are you cleaned up already?”
“Mostly. Now that you’re here, Vadie doesn’t need to help. I haven’t seen you all day. How were the wagon goods this morning?”
“Hi Vadie,” he said. “Only one water clock broken on the trip over the mountains, and you’ll be pleased that the Armonica came through in perfect condition. Not a glass disc harmed, and it’s going to be the talk of the market this time. I’m becoming an expert at packing those big supply wagons, and Torreb says if I continue like this I’ll be heading up the caravan soon.”
“The Armonica?” said Vadie. “That’s the box that looks like a piano, but instead of keys it has glass?”
“Congratulations,” said Salya. “It’s a miracle the Armonica survived, especially after that rock fall we had to pull the wagons over after Careful Pass. Hurry off to Mother, Vadie. We’ll be fine at the booth now.”
“Just because your boyfriend’s here, you can’t just dismiss me.” Vadie stuck out her tongue.
“I didn’t… I never said. Ugh! Vadie.” But her sister had already run across the brown field, halfway to the wagon now.
Salya and Rusak were friends, nothing more. She hated herself for blushing at such a stupid quip.
Rusak coughed. “I talked to Amma. Are you ready for tonight?”
Salya put the mortar and pestle back on the shelf and straightened some of the bottles back into rows. “We might as well announce, now that I’ve decided. Choosing my profession and preparing is the first step to Handcalling ceremony, and to the rest of my life, I suppose.”
“You will have to show up at the bonfire to find out,” she grinned at him. “But I think everyone could guess.”
“Amma must be thrilled.”
“They all are. That’s why we’re announcing tonight, she’s been so eager to tell people, she’s almost bursting.”
“I cannot imagine placid Amma bursting.”
Salya turned from the bottles and picked up the cash box. “You just went through the ceremony a few months ago, was it hard?”
“No. Torreb, Amma, and Restufus really tested me, and I was so afraid that I would forget something during the dedication part, like burn my tunic and drop the knife at the wrong time, thus incurring the immortal, holy wrath of Michegua. But it was fine.”
“Very dramatic,” said Salya. “It would’ve made the rites more exciting. Next time you are Handcalled, you’ll have to make mistakes on purpose so He can strike you down for blasphemy. Here, aren’t we ready to go?”
“Ha. Yes. I’ll take the wheelbarrow if you’ll grab the cash box. There will never be a next time for a Handcalling, so I can promise you I’ll do whatever you like.”
Rusak picked up the handles of the wheelbarrow, and began to walk across the dry field, pushing it before him. Salya followed.
“Whatever you choose, it’s more fun than the learning and slaving you’re doing right now,” said Rusak. “You know that, right? It doesn’t seem like something as simple as a ceremony would change the way you are with people, but it does. They treat you different.”
Salya shrugged “I guess I’m afraid that I won’t be me anymore. Handcalling is responsibility. Mother wouldn’t know what to do with me if I was on time to anything.”
“My father is generally unbearable in the mornings until Mother feeds him something. Being an adult didn’t fix that. I think you’re safely you regardless of how many ceremonies you take part in.”
“I hope you’re right.” They were almost to the wagon now, and Salya slowed. If she went in, it meant she was that much closer to committing to her choices.
“So, when can we look forward to the bigger party? When will you do the second ceremony?”
“Just as we pass to the Kwed side of the Elum Mountains. It will be close to Moonreturn then, and double luck being in the Elums and in Kwed both. That’s what Amma says.”
“I need some time to learn the rituals.”
They were outside the wagon now. Rusak pulled the wheelbarrow around to the back where Mother had dropped the set of stairs off the back deck that morning. Salya put the cash box down on the bottom step.
“Thanks for everything,” she said. “And for the… It will be alright. I can see that, I think.”
“Sure. Save me a dance tonight?”
Salya nodded. “The first one,” she grinned.