Read an extract from Elly Blake’s FROSTBLOOD
By Heather Keane
Posted on January 10, 2017 in Books with tags Elly Blake, Fantasy, Frostblood, Saga
Enter a world where fire and ice are mortal enemies…
Elly Blake’s debut is the first book in her three-book Frostblood saga, featuring rogue heroine, Ruby. Ruby is a Fireblood. In a land ruled by frost, her very existence is a crime. She’s spent her whole life in hiding – until the day Frostblood soldiers raid her village and kill her mother. She swears to avenge her people and travel deep into the heart of the enemy, to the court of the Frost King, with only the mysterious warrior Arcus – a Frostblood rebel – by her side. But with alliances between flame and ice strictly forbidden, is Arcus friend or foe? Ruby will only have one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who took everything from her. But she has no idea just how hot her fire will burn…
Careful not to freeze over while you’re reading the first chapter of Frostblood below:
I offered my hand to the fire.
Sparks leaped from the hearth and settled onto my fingers, heat drawn to heat, and glittered like molten gems against my skin. With my free hand, I pulled a bucket of melting snow closer and edged forward on my knees, ready to douse myself if the sparks flared into something much larger.
Which is exactly what I intended.
Winter solstice was six weeks away, but my village, high in the mountains, was already blanketed with a thick layer of snow. Grandmother used to say that the true test of a Fireblood’s gift was in the cold. But she died before she could show me more than the most rudimentary of lessons, and Mother had made me promise never to practice at all.
It was a promise I couldn’t keep. If the king’s soldiers discovered me, wasn’t it better to know how to wield my heat?
I closed my eyes and focused on my heart, willing the gathering warmth to surge upward and out the way Grandmother had taught me. If I did it right, the bright sparks on my hand would burst into tiny flames.
Come on, little wisp, where are you?
After years of being told to tamp down my fire, keep it hidden, make it invisible, I struggled each time I tried to find it. But there it was, a small, churning tendril. I coaxed it forward, a reluctant thread that grew a little, then a little more.
That’s it. I held my breath, afraid to break the spell.
A gust of frigid air whipped my hair across my face. The sparks on my fingers died, and the wisp darted back into my heart.
Mother slammed the door and shoved the quilt back against the crack at the bottom, a deep shiver shaking her fine-boned frame under her cloak. “It’s wicked out there. I’m chilled to the bone.”
Seeing her tremble, I finally scooted to the side, revealing the hearth. “I thought you were delivering a baby.”
“It wasn’t time yet.” Her eyes widened at the tall flames, then narrowed.
I shrugged, my excitement wilting. “It was so cold.”
“Ruby, you were practicing.” The tone of disappointment was familiar. “If even one person sees what you’re doing, just one, they could alert the king’s soldiers. With the summer being so wet, and the grains running out, people will do anything to survive, including taking a reward—”
“I know. You don’t have to tell me again.”
“Then why are you doing this? It’s bad enough when you’re not trying to use your gift.” She waved her hand at a pile of half-burned rags. Scorch marks still stained the floor.
My cheeks warmed. “I’m sorry I lost my temper the other day. Again. But tonight I could almost control the flame.”
She shook her head in a tense movement that told me there was no use pleading. I wrapped my arms around myself and rocked gently. Finally, her wind-chapped fingers reached out slowly to take a lock of my hair, which she always said was lucky to be black and not red like some Firebloods’. My skin might be a little too sun-kissed for a child of the North, but people didn’t look closely in this sleepy village, where no one had powers, frost or fire.
“I understand that your gift is a part of you,” she said softly. “But I lie awake at night worrying. How can we keep your secret if you insist on using your fire, even when you know it can spiral out of control?”
It was the same question she’d asked over and over during the past few months, when I’d decided to start practicing my gift. And I replied with the same answer. “How will I learn to control it if I never use it? And if we’re not safe here, why don’t we go somewhere safe?”
“Not that again. You know we’d never make it to the border, and even if we did, we’d be on the front lines.”
“Is heavily guarded now.”
“We should have left years ago,” I said bitterly. “We should live in Sudesia with the rest of our people.”
She looked away. “Well, we’re here now, and there’s no sense wishing for what isn’t.” She let out a deep sigh as she caught sight of the depleted pile of kindling. “Ruby, did you really need to use half our store of firewood?”
I swallowed past the guilt. “I won’t add any more logs to the fire.”
“When it burns down, we’ll freeze.”
“I’ll keep you warm. You can sleep right next to me.” I patted my mattress, which I’d pulled close to the hearth, just out of range of stray sparks.
Her gaze softened, a smile tugging at her lips. “You’re better than any fire. You never burn me, even if I roll too close.”
“Exactly. A Fireblood daughter can be very useful.”
She gave a bark of laughter and my heart lightened. “I am grateful—believe me.” She pulled me into a tight hug, gasping and laughing as she felt the sting of heat coming from me in waves. “It’s like holding a cooked chicken. I think you’d better take a walk to cool off. See if you can find some more kindling to replace the lot you used up.”
I pressed through drifts, the snow hissing as it melted against my shins above my boots. The wind howled from the southwest, yanking the hood from my head and raking through my hair with pine-scented fingers. The air was bitter, but my skin was still hotter than normal after practicing my gift. Mother had said to gather firewood and bring it home, but she also wanted me to calm down. Surely it was better to expel some of this heat out here, where it was safe?
I had done it before, sneaked out late at night into the desolate, snow-draped woods, my hands thrust into a hastily built fire as I willed myself to control the flames. All I’d managed to do was singe the edges of my cloak.
I gathered a bundle of small sticks, holding them tightly. The forest held its breath, eerily silent but for the rustle of wind in the treetops. Although I knew no one ever came here, I still looked around furtively, my heart beating thickly in my ears. Closing my eyes, I searched for the little wisp of flame I’d found earlier. The sticks grew hot in my hands, and I held my breath, hoping they would burst into flame.
The wind changed direction, barreling in from the north and carrying the dregs of a wet winter storm. I shivered and clutched the sticks tighter, struggling against the cold seeping into my pores and leaching the heat from my body.
Suddenly, the distant sounds of footsteps echoed through the woods.
I dropped the sticks and clambered onto a rock, knocking snow from it in heavy clumps. To the northwest, the path veered down into a gulley, where an overhang protected it from snow. In a few seconds, I would see whoever approached without being seen myself.
First a hood came into view; then a metal helm flashing between tree trunks washed gray under a steel sky. The blue of the men’s tunics shot startling color into the starkly white scene.
Soldiers, breaking the quiet with their heavy, crackling steps and ringing voices.
Blood rushed to my heart, fear blossoming into heat.
I’d been warned a thousand times about the king’s soldiers, but I’d always told myself we were too high in the mountains, too insignificant to warrant their search for Firebloods. I hoped they were just passing through on their way over the mountains from the barren North. But our hut was right along the path they were following. They could easily stop to raid our larder or use our hut for the night. We couldn’t risk them getting too near me, feeling the heat of my skin.
I slid off the rock and shot toward home, my shuddering breaths whisper-quiet as I scraped past trees and bushes, using undergrowth and my knowledge of the bend of the land as cover.
When I reached our hut, Mother was sitting by the fire, her long braid hanging over the back of the woven-bark chair.
“Soldiers,” I said, rushing to grab her thick cloak, still drying by the fire, and shoving it at her. “In the woods. If they stop here…”
Mother gaped at me for a moment before launching into action. She grabbed a rag and packed up some dry cheese and bread, then stumbled to the scarred wooden table, where healing plants dried in the warmth of the fire. We’d spent hours gathering the precious herbs, and neither of us could bear to leave them. We packed them as quickly as we could, folding them into scraps of fabric tied with frantic fingers.
The herbs were swept from the table by the wind as the door crashed against the wall. Two men emerged from the snowy darkness, their blue vests each emblazoned with a white arrow.
“Where’s the Fireblood?” The soldier’s small eyes moved from Mother to me.
“We’re healers.” Hearing the tremble of fear under Mother’s bravado made my legs weak.
With long strides, one of the men cornered me and grabbed my arms. My throat convulsed at the sharp reek of old sweat and foul breath. His cold hand slid to my neck. I wanted to turn my head and bite his wrist, hit him, rake him with my nails, anything to get his hand off me, but the sword at his side held me still.
“Her skin is burning hot,” he said with a curl of his lip.
“She has a fever,” Mother said, her voice desperate.
I took a deep, shuddering breath. Hide your heat. Push it down. Calm yourself.
“You’ll catch my fever,” I said, trying to keep the tremble out of my voice.
“I can’t catch what’s wrong with you.” He pulled me toward the door, his hand tight on my arm. I struggled wildly, trying to twist out of his grasp and kicked over a bucket of red berries I had gathered before the recent snow. They spilled across the floor like drops of blood, crushed under his boots as he pulled me out into the moonlight.
Pressure grew in my chest. It was as if the fire in the hearth had crawled into my rib cage and wanted out. Grandmother had described the sensation, but I’d never felt it like this. It stung and burned and pressed against my ribs from the inside. It made me want to rip off my skin just to let it free.
The ache grew until I thought it might kill me. I screamed and a swathe of stinging hot air surrounded me, covering my attacker. He let go and fell to the ground, howling in pain.
I scrambled into the hut where Mother struggled with the other soldier as he pulled her toward the door. I grabbed a log from the woodpile and brought it down hard on the back of his head. He pitched to the side and lay still.
I took Mother’s hand, and we stumbled out the door and into the night. The soldier I had burned was still on his hands and knees, pressing snow to his face.
We moved as fast as we could through the thick drifts, away from our hut, away from the place that had always been warmth and safety, a riot of fear and confusion making my mind as numb as my fingers. I had to get Mother away, keep her safe. At a fork in the path, I pulled right, toward the forest, where we could lose ourselves in the pines that grew so thick snow didn’t reach the ground.
“Too cold,” Mother panted, pulling against my hand. “No shelter there. The village.”
We pounded past farms and the shadows of houses until Mother’s steps slowed, and I half pulled, half dragged her through the worst of the drifts, which had poured like frozen waves over the path. As we slogged through the shadows next to the blacksmith’s shop, I saw orange lights bobbing in the village square.
“Torches,” I whispered, pulling back on my mother’s hand.
It didn’t seem real. I had come to the village at least once a week for as long as I could remember, not just to buy food and supplies, but to get away from the solitude of our tiny hut, to exchange nods and smiles with people, to smell baking bread and the occasional waft of rosewater from the shopkeepers’ wives and daughters. Although I couldn’t truly call anyone my friend, there were people who always answered when I greeted them, who were glad to take my mother’s cordials for a sick father or sister or child.
Now my cozy world had broken like a glass jar dropped onto stone, spilling familiarity and security, never to be gathered back again. The smells were all wrong, the acrid smoke of torches and the reek of too many hard-ridden horses with their unwashed riders.
We wheeled and doubled back, but as we passed a space between buildings, three soldiers wearing the white arrow emerged from the dark like specters, their hands on us before we could move. They pulled us toward the square, where groups of people waited, looking frightened and disheveled, as if they’d been hauled from their beds. I twisted and turned, searching for a way out, but I couldn’t leave Mother. She stood quiet and still beside me.
“Is this the Fireblood girl?” The man was tall, with blade-cut cheekbones and a sandy beard, and he spoke with an air of command. His coat shone with polished buttons.
I scanned the familiar faces of the people from my village. Graham, the miller, and his daughter, Flax. The farmers Tibald, Brecken, and Tom, and their wives, Gert, Lilly, and Melody. They had all come to my mother for treatment when they were sick, but surely they didn’t know what I was. I’d always been so careful, and we’d been nothing but good neighbors.
A boy my age stepped forward. My heart leaped to see that it was Clay, the butcher’s eldest son. At the harvest festival, he had pulled me to the side as the village danced around the fire. His hand had trembled in mine as we shared a kiss in the dark. He’d drawn back after feeling my lips, so hot on his own, but he hadn’t pulled his hand away. After that, we’d stolen looks at each other when I went to his father’s shop.
“She’s the one, Captain,” Clay said, his lips trembling. “She killed my brother.”
My mother gasped and squeezed my hand. My body had gone numb.
A few weeks ago my mother had been summoned by Clay’s father. His infant son wouldn’t nurse. The baby’s skin was cold. Mother tried every salve and curative she knew and finally took me with her to see if my natural heat could warm the child’s skin. But the baby died anyway. I cried for three days afterward.
“You know that’s not true,” I whispered. “I tried to save him.”
“Fireblood!” said Clay’s father. “You brought this on all of us.”
I shook my head in disbelief. “Clay? You’re the one who brought the soldiers here?”
Clay’s face twisted, but he didn’t answer. He just turned away.
As if by an unspoken command, the villagers retreated as the soldiers moved closer. In moments, my mother and I were the only ones left, two shivering women ringed by blazing torches.
“There’s one way to know for sure,” said the captain, holding his torch in front of him with a glimmer of enjoyment in his cold eyes. “Firebloods don’t burn.”
“Get away, Mother!” I pushed her to the ground.
The torches were almost on us, six or seven coming from all sides, the heat searing my face. The fire from one leaped to the fabric of my dress. Flames ate at my clothes and roared in my ears. My skin was blistering hot, but it didn’t burn.
The captain stepped forward, his hand moving to his sword, and Mother threw herself at him. Her hand slashed down the side of his face, drawing a bead of blood. I tried to pull Mother back, but as I came close, the captain’s booted foot crashed into my chest. I fell to the ground, gasping, the fire on my dress hissing into steam against the snow.
As I struggled to my knees, he lifted his sword, almost lazily. Then he slammed the hilt down onto Mother’s head with a sickening crack.
She crumpled to the ground like a broken doll, her hair spread over the snow, wispy and delicate, as if drawn with a piece of charcoal. Her long, lovely neck curved like a wilted flower stem.
I crawled to her side and took her shoulders, called out to her. My hands fluttered to her chest, her neck, searching for her heartbeat, strong and steady, like she was. But she lay still.
The world froze.
No. No. No.
The timid little flame in my chest flared to a river of heat, far beyond my control. I didn’t care. What was the use in hiding it now? I breathed in a gasp that stole the air from the sky, the trees, the world. The wind seemed to twist around me, the eye of the tornado.
The flames that covered my body expanded, erupting with a roar and pinwheeling forward. A chaos of writhing, panicked men blurred in my vision as soldiers fell to the ground, pushing their faces and hands into the snow.
My mother’s still form lay behind me, her hair and limbs in a tumble. I reached out to gather her to me, but hands seized my shoulders. I lashed out with my fists and searched my mind for that well of flame I’d found in my deepest self.
The heat died as they dropped me into a horse trough, my body breaking through a layer of ice into water that stabbed my skin like needles. Rough wooden walls pressed against my sides. I pushed up, my chest bursting with singeing cold, and was shoved back down. I clutched at the edges of the trough, my nails digging into the wood.
Finally I was pulled up, gagging out water and sucking in great mouthfuls of icy air.
The captain, his head gilded by a flickering orange light, bent down and grasped a fistful of my streaming hair, shoving his face into mine. His face was red, blisters forming on his cheeks.
“You’ll pay for what you did to me and my men. Your whole village will pay.”
Fire already blazed behind him, storefronts and houses belching out black smoke. Some of the villagers tried to stop the soldiers, whose torches touched wooden walls and piles of firewood and carts, while they hooted and shouted as if this were an evening’s entertainment. Their voices mixed with the wails of those who could only stand by and watch as their livelihoods burned.
Rage mixed with panic, heating my blood and making the water steam.
“A fitting punishment for harboring a Fireblood, don’t you think?” said the captain, his eyes glittering.
So everyone would suffer because of me.
“I’ll kill you for what you’ve done this night,” I managed to whisper.
The flames cast strange shadows on his leering grin. “Tie her to a horse. We’ll take her to Blackcreek Prison.”
“But, Captain,” said a soldier. “Her fire.”
“Then knock her out.”
Pain split the back of my head. The last thing I saw before my world faded to black was the white arrow on the captain’s chest.
The mark of the Frost King.
Frostblood copyright © 2017 by Elly Blake
Frostblood is out 12th January and you can get your copy here