I sometimes think that one of the lovely changes wrought by the rise of urban fantasy is a “widening” of genres for those of us writing more traditional fantasy. In 2002, when J.C. and I sold Dhampir to Ace/Roc, the acquiring editor had to pitch the concept a bit to the publisher because we were mixing horror elements with high fantasy in a way that hadn’t been done much. Too much mixing of genres back then seemed to make publishers nervous because Borders and B&N preferred novels in which the genre was so clear there was no question as to “where” it should be stocked in the bookstores.
Things have changed since then on a number of levels. For one . . . Borders is gone. But there are also more sub-genres that have become popular in the realms of fantasy. Paranormal romance and urban fantasy are now each nearly a genre unto themselves.
I like to mix up genres in my writing. In 2012, I had an editor who both trusted and supported me. I showed her a proposal for a series of novels that would mix traditional fantasy with murder mystery elements and a hint of romance. She loved it and made an offer.
The Mist-Torn Witches series was born (smiles).
The novels surround two sisters, Céline and Amelie Fawe. Céline can read snippets of the future, and Amelie can read snippets of the past. They live in a world of warlords who all call themselves “princes.” A personal crisis leads the sisters to solve a string of unexplainable murders for one of the princes, and they end up inextricably tied to him and his over-protective lieutenant.
This series is great fun to write, and I always look forward to the time of year when I need to begin the next book.
Oh, and B&N knew exactly where to stock them . . . in the fantasy section. Hah!
National bestselling author Barb Hendee returns to the world of the Mist-Torn witches, as two sisters who can see the secrets of the past and the mysteries of the future begin a quest to save the family they never knew existed.…
Powerful prince Malcolm is facing ruin in the wake of a curse that has destroyed his harvest. He blames the band nomadic Móndyalítko who summer in the meadow below his castle—and he is determined to root out the people who caused the blight by any means necessary.
When Céline and Amelie Fawe, descended from the Móndyalítko, learn that their mother’s people are under suspicion of sabotage and treason, they set out to use their magical gifts to save their estranged relatives and learn about their own origins.
Now it’s up to the sisters—along with their motley escort, including a prince’s lieutenant, a shape-shifter, and an old woman with a murky past—to discover the source of the curse to restore life to the ravaged land and protect the innocent from unfair vengeance.
Where are you from? Does the area you live in influence you writing?
I grew up in Snohomish, Washington. It’s possible this place did influence my writing, as it is pitch black there by 4:00 in the afternoon from early November through February. There was often little to do besides make up stories in my head.
Tell us your latest news!
J.C. and I are launching a new co-written series together called The Dead Seekers, starring an anti-social ghost hunter and a shape-shifter. The first book comes out in hard cover in January. I’m really excited about this.
What book(s) / author(s) have influenced your life and writing?
I read The Mists of Avalon, Watership Down, and Dune about once a year. I take something new away from each book every time.
Tell us about your characters and how they came to be? Have they been in your head for a long time?
The characters in the Noble Dead Saga had been in my head for a long time before I started writing about their lives, trials and adventures—especially Leesil. Magiere and Leesil are both very flawed, damaged people, and with Leesil, I wanted to tell his story, to show a hero who is also a quietly anguished, alcoholic, compulsive gambler who uses humor to cover.
Céline and Amelie just came to me. They only lived in my head for a few weeks before I started making character sketches, but I could see and hear them clearly.
What motivates you to write?
At this point . . . my house payments. Hah!
The real reason is that I can’t seem to stop.
What is the hardest part of writing?
For me, the first three chapters are always the hardest part of a novel project. Setting up the characters and keeping the pace moving while introducing the world and situation can be difficult to balance gracefully, and I seem to spend the greatest amount of time on the first three chapters. After that, the books just sort of write themselves.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Interesting question. With the Mist-Torn Witches series, as I’d never done a real murder mystery before, I dug out my Agatha Christie novels to study how she set up her suspects. I knew I’d need to have a number of suspects who all seemed plausible and motivated. Doing this is harder than it sounds.
What does your family think of your writing?
I think they were a little shocked when I started making money—possibly more than a little shocked.
What is the best advice you would give to inspiring authors?
1) Don’t quit.
2) If you want to be traditionally published, get an agent. No matter what you hear, if you want to get your manuscript on the desk of a New York editor, you need an agent.
3) However . . . self-publishing has lost any stigma at all. If you’ve got the chops to handle the various elements on your own (covers, hiring copy-editing, etc), in 2016, there is nothing wrong with self-publishing your own books.
What book are you reading now?
I’m re-reading The Sunne in Splendor by Sharon Kay Penman. Wonderful book.
P.S. For TV shows, I’ve been binging on the History Channel’s Vikings. Goodness is that ever violent, but I can’t seem to stop watching.
Castle Sèone, southwest Droevinka
The following night
As a healer and an apothecary, Céline Fawe had sat through death vigils before, but none had affected her more than the one that she and her sister, Amelie, faced now.
Céline, Amelie, and Lieutenant Kirell Jaromir all sat around the edges of the bed in Jaromir’s private apartments. A great wolfhound lay in the center of the bed taking shallow breaths.
“It’s all right, Lizzie,” Jaromir whispered, stroking her head.
The wolfhound’s muzzle was mottled with white. She’d lived fourteen years, which from what Céline understood was old for a dog of her breed. But Lizzie had been with Jaromir longer than anyone else in his life.
Earlier this evening, he’d sent for the sisters down at their apothecary’s shop down in the village, and they had come quickly.
Lizzie had fallen and could no longer rise.
Jaromir carried her in here. Since then, Céline had been doing whatever she could to keep the dog comfortable and to ensure that Jaromir didn’t have to go through this alone.
She looked across the bed at him. He was the military commander of Castle Sèone and personal bodyguard to Prince Anton of the house of Pählen.
In his early thirties, Jaromir struck Céline as more striking than handsome. He wore a small goatee around his mouth and kept his light brown hair tied back at the nape of his neck. From his weathered face to the scars on his hands, most elements of his appearance marked him as a professional soldier. He was tall and strong and comfortable inside his own skin. He wore the tan tabard of Sèone over chain armor. At times, he was too fond of being in control, and he would do anything—anything—he deemed necessary to protect Prince Anton.
But right now he was just a man suffering at the prospect of losing a beloved companion.
“Do you think she’s in pain?” he asked.
“No,” Céline answered. “I’ve given her a little poppy syrup, only enough to help her rest.”
Poor Amelie sat beside Jaromir with a sad expression. Her relationship to Jaromir was more complicated than Céline’s. Although Amelie would insist that she and Jaromir had no relationship at all, Céline knew better than to believe that.
She knew Amelie cared for Jaromir and felt his pain now.
“You don’t have to stay,” he said quietly.
“We’re not leaving,” Amelie answered.
Céline felt a rush of love for her sister. The two of them were close but had little in common and shared few physical traits.
At the age of nearly twenty-two, Céline was small and slender. Her overly abundant mass of dark blond hair hung in waves to the small of her back, and both she and her sister had inherited their mother’s lavender eyes. Tonight, Céline wore a wool gown of the same lavender shade.
Amelie was three years younger and even shorter than Céline. But where Céline was slight, Amelie’s build showed a hint of strength and muscle. She despised dresses and always wore breeches, a man’s shirt, a canvas jacket, and boots. She’d inherited their father’s straight black hair, which she’d cropped into a bob that hung to her shoulders. She nearly always wore a sheathed dagger on her left hip—which she knew how to use.
Until the previous spring, one year ago, Céline and Amelie had been living in a grubby little village, running a small apothecary shop, often taking skinny chickens and turnips as payment. But fate and mixed fortune had landed them in the prosperous village of Sèone, living in a fine shop, with the protection and patronage of Prince Anton.
“How long does she have?” Jaromir asked.
“I don’t know,” Céline answered. “Have you eaten? Should I send for some food?”
He shook his head. “Not for me.”
A soft knock sounded on the door, and before anyone could speak, it opened. Prince Anton himself stood in the doorway.
“My lord,” Jaromir said, rising quickly.
Anton put up one hand. “Sit. I just wanted to come and check. I know what Lizzie means to you.”
Coming from Anton, this was quite an emotional speech. The two men were good friends, but they were both guarded in different ways. Jaromir often hid behind a joke, and Anton was a reserved person who held himself apart from everyone.
It was good of him to come tonight.
Céline met his eyes.
Anton was a young leader, in his mid-twenties. He was of medium height with a slender build, but with a definition of tight muscles that showed through the sleeves of his shirt. His face was pale with narrow, even features, and he kept his straight brown hair tucked behind his ears.
“Is there anything I can do?” he asked.
“No, my lord,” Jaromir answered. “But I do thank you.”
After a nod, Anton stepped out and quietly closed the door.
Céline wished she could offer Jaromir some comfort. It would be a long night.
As the first light of dawn washed through the window, Amelie opened her eyes. It took her a moment to remember where she was: Jaromir’s bedroom.
Sitting up, she found herself lying across the foot of the bed. Céline was asleep in a chair. Jaromir knelt on the floor with his face down on the bed and his arms stretched out over Lizzie’s body.
The dog was still.
At Amelie’s movement, Jaromir raised his head. “She’s gone.”
“Oh.” Amelie was suddenly guilt-ridden for having fallen asleep, and she longed to say the right thing to comfort him. She was no good with words. She never had been. Instead, she crawled over and grasped the back of his hand.
Instantly, he put his other hand over the top of hers.
“I’m sorry,” she said simply, and she was.
Lizzie had spent the past year living mainly in the dining hall by the hearth, where Jaromir had torn her meat into small bites, but the solider and dog had traveled and fought and hunted side by side from the time Jaromir was a young man.
“I know you are,” he answered.
Céline stirred and opened her eyes. Looking at the scene before her, she wouldn’t need to ask any questions.
Again, Amelie wanted to do something to help.
Still gripping Jaromir’s hand, she said, “Why don’t we take her down the shop, to the herb garden? We can bury her between the rosebushes and the beech tree. I think she would like that, and we can look after her grave there.”
Jaromir looked at her, and she imagined for a moment that his eyes were wet. Perhaps not.
He nodded. “Yes.”
Standing, he wrapped Lizzie’s body in a blanket so that she was fully covered and lifted her off the bed. Céline gathered her medicinal supplies, and they left the room, heading for the stairs and down to the main floor. As they emerged from the stairwell, a familiar face came toward them from the direction of the dining hall.
Normally quick on her feet, she was at least seventy, with thick white hair up in a bun that was partially covered by an orange kerchief—nearly always askew. Her wrinkled face had a dusky tone, and she wore a faded homespun dress that might have once been purple.
Though she was officially a servant here in the castle, Amelie had long suspected she was more. For one, everyone else treated Jaromir with deference and respect—even fear on occasion—but Helga often referred to him sarcastically as “His Lord Majesty lieutenant” and had a tendency to boss him around, and for some reason, he let her.
Even more, Helga had been responsible for helping Céline and Amelie understand at least the roots of who they were and where their mother had come from: the Móndyalítko or “the world’s little children,” who traveled in wagons and viewed the world as their home.
Before arriving in Sèone, Céline and Amelie had known little of their origins.
Their father had been a village hunter for Shetâna, and one year, he’d been off on a long-distance hunt, traveling for days. He’d come back with their mother and married her. Then the couple had built an apothecary shop in Shetâna and started a small family. Once Céline and Amelie were old enough, their mother taught them to read. She taught Céline herb lore and the ways of healing—while saying nothing of her own past.
Neither of the sisters had ever heard the term “Mist-Torn” before they came here and Helga explained to them that not only were they born of a Móndyalítko mother, but they were of a special line called the Mist-Torn who each possessed a natural power. As sisters, Céline and Amelie were two sides of the same coin, one able to read the future and one able to read the past.
The full comprehension of this knowledge had changed their lives, as now they served not only served Sèone as healers, but as Anton’s seers.
Taking a closer look at Helga, Amelie thought the old woman’s step was less spritely than usual, and her normal, caustic expression was subdued.
Reaching out, Helga touched the blanket in Jaromir’s arms. “It’s over.”
He didn’t answer, but her words had not sounded like a question.
“Where will you take her?” she asked.
“To the herb garden, to bury her,” Amelie answered.
Helga nodded. “I’ll come.”
An hour later, Céline stood beside a fresh grave as Jaromir used a shovel to pat down the last of the dirt.
She was glad for Amelie’s suggestion that they bury Lizzie here in the herb garden out in back of the apothecary shop, the Betony and Beech. There was no place up at the castle for a proper burial, and Céline found this garden the loveliest spot in all of Sèone. The shop itself was a solid one-story wooden building, stained a rich brown with yellow-painted shutters. It was her and Amelie’s place of business as well as their home.
The herb garden was divided into eight large separate beds filled with medicinal plants: cumin, colewort fennel, mint, lavender, lovage, sage, rue, savory, foxglove, pennyroyal, and rosemary. Red poppies lined the back fence. One portion of the garden nearest the shop had been designated as a “kitchen garden” for lettuce, carrots, onions, potatoes, peas, and strawberries. An apple tree graced one corner, and a beech tree the other. Roses grew along the sides of the fence.
Lizzie’s grave was between the beech tree and a rosebush with white blooms.
“I’ll make a marker later today,” Céline said to Jaromir. “You can come and visit any time you wish.”
He nodded, but she didn’t know how often he would come. He’d loved Lizzie, but he was a man of duty and responsibility.
“Thank you,” he said, looking at Amelie.
Helga hadn’t spoken since leaving the castle, and although she’d been fond of the dog, Céline was beginning to wonder if something else might be wrong. Had the four of them been engaged in any other task, the dynamics between them all would have been quite different, with Jaromir teasing Amelie mercilessly, Amelie taking the bait, and Helga bossing everyone else around.
They were a sad little company this morning, and Céline decided to take charge in Helga’s stead.
“This is all we can do here,” she said. “Amelie and I have bread, butter, and strawberry jam inside. Everyone, come along, and I’ll put together some breakfast and spiced tea. Jaromir, you need to eat something.”
He didn’t argue and let her lead him through the back door. This rear section provided their living quarters, and all four members of the funeral party passed down a short hallway, through a set of swinging doors, and into the front half of the shop, where the work and transactions took place.
Céline took pride in knowing that all this belonged to her and Amelie.
There was the sturdy counter running half the length of the large front room, and the walls were lined with shelves of clay pots and jars. The wooden table was covered in a variety of accoutrements such as a pestle and mortar, brass scales, small wooden bowls, and an open box of tinder and flint. A hearth comprised the center of the south wall.
Céline’s enormous orange cat, Oliver, sat on the counter licking his paws. He kept the place free of mice.
“I’ll slice the bread,” Amelie said. “Céline, can you get the water started for tea?”
“Yes, I’ll be quick.”
As Céline headed for the hearth, again, she glanced back at Helga, who would normally have taken full charge by now, insisting upon slicing the bread herself and throwing a few insults at Jaromir. She often told him that he “needed to be taken down a peg or two,” and he never disagreed. Anyone else who dared speak to him in such a manner would have been given reason to regret it.
In spite of his state of sorrow, Jaromir himself finally noticed Helga’s uncharacteristic silence and walked toward her. “What ails you? Try not to be too pained over Lizzie. I keep telling myself she had a good life and a peaceful end, and that’s more than most of us can hope for.”
Helga started slightly and looked up him. He towered over her.
“Oh, it’s not . . . yes, I’m sad about your Lizzie, but . . .”
Helga’s gaze moved from him to Amelie to Céline.
Kneeling by the hearth, Céline asked, “Helga, what is wrong?” Forgetting the tea, she stood, hurried over, and led the older woman to a chair. “Please talk to us.”
As Helga sat, her expression was deeply troubled. “What do any of you know of Prince Malcolm of Yegor?”
Amelie blinked, and Céline had no idea what to say. The sisters knew little to nothing of politics outside the house of Pählen.
Jaromir shook his head. “Prince Malcolm? Not much. I know he’s had the title only about five years, after inheriting from a brother who died with no heir. He holds a good deal of the southeast province, and his house earns most of their profits from agriculture. He’s also shown no interest adding his name to the upcoming royal election.”
Droevinka had no hereditary king. Instead, it was a land of many princes, each one heading his own noble house and overseeing multiple fiefdoms. But they all served a single grand prince, and a new grand prince was elected every nine years by the gathered heads of the noble houses. At present, Prince Rodêk of the house of Äntes was in rule.
In one year’s time, next spring, a new grand prince would be elected, and Anton was hoping for the opportunity not only to put himself up for election but to gain enough support to win.
Helga studied Jaromir’s face. “Agriculture?” she repeated. “Does that mean crops?”
“I’ve been looking for a way to get the three of you alone since yesterday. I need your help.” She looked to Céline. “To save some of your mother’s people.”
“Our mother’s people?” Amelie echoed.
“There’s a meadow about half a league from Castle Yegor,” Helga went on. “The lands all around it are covered in apple orchards and berry fields. Years ago, when I was just a girl, the prince in power found he didn’t have enough serfs to handle the harvest, so he let it be known that if any of the traveling Móndyalítko were willing to work to bring in the crops, they were welcome to camp in the meadow all through late spring and summer.”
Céline knelt down at her feet. “You traveled with the Móndyalítko?”
“Course I did. Fourteen to sixteen caravans came to that meadow every spring. We picked strawberries first, and then raspberries, then blueberries, and then apples in the early autumn. We were asked to pay nothing in rent for our stay, and we were allowed to keep a portion of the berries and apples we picked—and also to fish in any of the streams and set snares for rabbits. It was a haven.” She paused. “The next prince and the next made the same offer. They needed the help.”
“And something caused Prince Malcolm to stop allowing this?” Amelie asked.
“No,” Helga answered. “The caravans still roll into that meadow every spring.”
“But what happened with you?” Céline asked. “Where is your own family, and how did you come to be here?”
Helga’s expression closed up. “Don’t ever ask me that again. I told you your mother’s people need help, and they do. This year, someone has cursed the land of Yegor, and Prince Malcolm blames the Móndyalítko in the meadow. Whatever has happened, it’s no blight or disease. There’s no drought and yet everything has withered and died, from the grass to the apple blossoms to the strawberries. The prince is facing ruin if he can’t turn this around, and he’s started torturing people to find the culprit. At least one has died. The others are all being held as prisoners.”
“What?” Céline gasped, trying to get her head about this. “Helga, how do you know this? Has someone written to you?”
Again, Helga’s expression closed up. “I can’t tell you, but you know I’d never say such things unless they were true. I need help. We have to go there. You and Amelie have to use your powers to find the truth.”
“Yegor?” Jaromir said, sounding incredulous. “It would take a week just to travel there, maybe more depending on the state of the roads.”
No one answered him, and the room fell silent except for the sound of Oliver licking his paws.
“You say our mother’s people are in this meadow?” Amelie asked finally.
“It’s been some years since I did a harvest,” Helga answered, “but a small caravan from the line of Fawe always rolled in back then, and I can’t see why that would change.”
“Céline, we have to go,” Amelie said flatly.
This was more complicated than Amelie seemed to realize. They’d never met anyone related to their mother. Were they simply to arrive and introduce themselves? How would either they or their offer of help be received? She knew so little of the situation. And what if one of the Móndyalítko had cursed the crops?
But Helga watched her with fearful hope, and Céline realized they couldn’t refuse.
Reaching out, she touched Helga’s hand. “Of course we’ll go.” She turned to Jaromir. “We’ll need protection for the journey. Do you think Prince Anton will give you leave?”
Jaromir still appeared stunned at the idea of any of them going all the way to the southeast province, but she didn’t think he would refuse, either.
And of course Anton would give them leave.
The sisters had served him well in the past year. They’d used their abilities to help him catch murderers and to shore up his legacy as a strong leader. He had given them this shop in gratitude, but they hadn’t asked for it. They’d never asked him for anything. He would certainly grant this one request.
Jaromir locked eyes with Amelie for a long moment. On such a long journey, he’d want to be at her side.
“I’ll go and speak with the prince,” he said.
Helga closed her eyes in relief.
Barb Hendee is the co-author of the best-selling Noble Dead Saga. She’s also the author of the Vampire Memories series and the Mist-Torn Witches series. She and her husband J.C. live on the south edge of Portland, Oregon, which is a good thing because she loves rain and all things green. She teaches writing for Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. She and J.C. live with two spoiled but very funny cats.
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