Authors: Jenna Burtenshaw
Copyright © 2012 Jenna Burtenshaw
The right of Jenna Burtenshaw to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publishers or, in the case of reprographic production, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency.
First published as an Ebook by Headline Publishing Group in 2012
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cataloguing in Publication Data is available from the British Library
eISBN : 978 0 7553 8924 7
HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP
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Jenna Burtenshaw has been writing regularly since she was nine years old, but it was her morning walk to school through a graveyard that first interested her in gothic writing and the supernatural. She is a vegetarian and is very passionate about animal welfare – she once ran a shelter for sick and unwanted guinea pigs, which often had more than fifty residents at one time.
The veil which marks the division between life and death is falling. Lost souls are seeping through to roam Albion's graveyard city of Fume.
Kate Winters’ recent memory is lost. Relieved to be heading home to Albion, Kate can't shake the feeling that Dalliah Grey, the woman she's supposed to be working for, is not to be trusted.
Disgraced warrior Silas Dane plans to rescue Kate and save Albion from the advancing armies seeking to profit from the confusion. But the veil will not be easy to repair and Silas knows sacrifices have to be made.
Kate must return to the dark secrets detailed by her ancestors in the ancient book of WINTERCRAFT and learn from their mistakes to save herself.
For beautiful Belle.
My canine writing companion, who explored Albion at my side from the very beginning. Champion tail wagger & mistress of the howl.
High above the chilled waters of a sunlit sea, a dark tower rose like a wizened thumb from the crags of a blackened cliff. It cast a broken shadow across the rubble-flecked land behind it, standing crooked but strong in the rising daylight as it kept its ancient watch over the waves below.
The waves crashed against the foot of the cliff, their rhythmic surge echoing along the eastern coast of Albion, but few human ears were there to hear it. There, in that isolated place, a man climbed out of a hatch in the tower’s roof, carrying a small wooden crate draped with cloth up into the open air. He left the crate near the hatch and walked to the edge, where a spyglass stood upon its stand, pointing out across the sea. His stubbled face was half hidden beneath a wide hat and his hair hung tattered across his shoulders as he cleared the lens and pressed his eye to the eyepiece.
Tarak had spent months freezing in that tower, watching ice drifting sluggishly across the horizon. That bleak seascape had become his world, but not – he hoped – for much longer. He knocked his hat back, exposing deep green eyes. The sword he kept propped beside the spyglass had claimed the life of the man who once guarded that place, and a mound of earth near the tower’s foundations marked the spot where the body now lay.
This was the day he had been waiting for. Everything was going according to plan.
As the sun rose higher, a distant shape on the water drew his eye. He adjusted the lens until he could make out every wave on the surface of the sea, raised the spyglass’s eye to the horizon and settled at last upon a dark, welcome sight. A ship, heading towards the coast, with a mass of black sails raised high and full.
,’ Tarak whispered, his face softening into a satisfied smile. At last, his time in that vermin-ridden place was coming to an end. He buttoned up his coat and set to work.
He crossed the tower roof and dragged the cloth from the crate. Powerful wings beat hard against the latticed sides and four beady eyes blinked up at him as he carried it to the wall. He cooed gently to keep the birds calm, and carefully unlatched the lock before reaching in and lifting out a pigeon. He tucked the bird under his arm and slid a prepared note into a ring attached to its bright pink leg. ‘It’s time to do what we came here for,’ he said.
The bird wriggled excitedly, sensing the freedom of the open sky. Tarak held it out and sent it fluttering into
the freezing air, where it settled into a smooth glide and flew across the water heading towards the Continental lands that lay beyond the icy sea.
Tarak watched it swoop past the dark sails of the oncoming ship. He had spent many months of his life stationed on that weatherbeaten deck. The black hull bore the scars and burns of countless battles and just seeing it again brought back memories of combat, war and death. Enemies often underestimated the deadly power carried beneath those sails, but the
was the strongest vessel in the Continental fleet. It had earned its name many times over.
He prepared a second note and attached it to the leg of the remaining bird, which sat peacefully in his hands as he held it out over the side. The pigeon flapped into the air the moment he let it go, circled once, and settled in the opposite direction to the first bird, heading deep into Albion territory, straight towards the distant graveyard city of Fume.
Tarak closed the crate. With the ship in sight and his messages sent, his work in that tower was done. He waited until both birds were no more than dark specks against the sky, then grabbed his sword, headed for the roof hatch and descended the tower steps two at a time. He spiralled his way down past the living quarters and out on to an overgrown patch of land that was half buried in snow.
His horse was where he had left it, inside the tower’s single tumbledown stable. He slid the blanket from its back, saddled it quickly and led it outside. Salty wind whistled past the tower’s stones as he mounted the beast,
flicked the reins once, and rode along a gravel path, following a narrow trail that ran along the cliff top, travelling south.
Winter still held Albion firmly in its grip and the clear morning sky was already under threat as heavy clouds massed on the horizon. Tarak glanced out to sea and spotted the winking light of a lantern signalling from the ship to the shore. He worked the horse harder, forcing its hooves to slam into the crumbling cliff, travelling past long-abandoned buildings that stood perilously close to the edge. The watchtower had not always been alone. It had once stood guard over a coastal town that had almost finished crumbling into the sea. Now, only a few forgotten houses were left to mark the inland edges of the vanished settlement. The ground here was riddled with old tunnels, weakening the cliff and making it a dangerous place.
Tarak led his horse into a sheltered spot between two buildings, tied the reins to a bare tree and picked his way through what was left of the town on foot. He headed for an exposed patch of land, perilously close to the cliff edge, and walked slowly until the ground sounded hollow beneath his boots. There he bent down, scrubbed away a thin layer of earth and heaved open a hidden door, revealing a steep flight of steps cutting down into the cliff.
Two threads pinned across the entrance were undisturbed. No one had passed through that door in days.
Tarak followed the steps down into a twist of old cellar tunnels and the glare of the low sun dazzled him at the point where the base of the cliff met the shore.
The tunnel’s mouth opened out into a small cove, with
the watchtower’s crags on one side and a curving face of jagged rock on the other. A small battered fishing boat lay abandoned within a low cave close by. Smugglers sometimes used that place and it was not unusual for them to leave things behind.
Tarak crossed the cove quickly, tugging at a leather cord hung around his neck. A circular disc of polished crystal slid from his collar and sparkled in the sunlight as he pressed it into his palm. The ship’s lantern flickered again. He held the lens up to catch the sun and flashed a signal across the water, letting the crew know that their landing place was secure.
’s crew pulled in the sails. Ropes snaked out over the ship’s starboard side and a boat with a curved roof was lowered slowly down on to the water. It was hard for Tarak to see anyone in it clearly, but he knew whom to expect. A woman and a girl were due ashore that day, accompanied by armed officers wearing their distinctive uniforms of red and black. Tarak straightened his shabby coat. He would be glad to clean himself up, cut his hair and wear the colours of his true station again. Those men were his comrades, his brothers: every one of them honoured to be part of the Continental army’s elite force known as the Blackwatch.
He was standing proudly at the water’s edge, waiting to welcome the boat ashore, when the sound of a whistle carried down from the top of the cliff. He looked up to where a man was leaning fearlessly out from the cliff edge, flickering a signal. Tarak raised a hand in reply. The horses had arrived.
He turned back to the sea and watched the boat advance slowly towards the shore, until thickening clouds swept over the sun and sharp spits of hail began to fall. The wind churned and the air filled quickly with swarms of stinging ice, while storm clouds swelled like a bruise, filling the northern sky. Tarak stood, braving it out, until the hail became too heavy to bear. He had hoped to provide a dignified welcome, but if he stood there much longer he would look like a fool.
Cursing the weather under his breath, he headed to the cave for shelter. He pulled up his collar and made for the hollow where the fishing boat’s prow jutted out over the sand. His hand had just touched the cave’s clammy wall when he hesitated. Something about the boat looked different. There was a red net draped over the side that he was sure had not been there before. He edged closer, until his boot pressed down on something firm just beneath the sand.