Fire is never tame—least of all the flames of our own kindling.
by Kristina Wojtaszek
Series: Fae of Fire and Stone, Book 2
Fantasy/Fairy Tale/Young Adult
Release Date: April 26, 2016
Novel: Approx. 50,000 words
Also available as a trade paperback
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Other books in the series: Opal (1), Char (2)
Fire is never tame—least of all the flames of our own kindling.
Raised in isolation by the secretive Circle of Seven, Luna is one of the few powerful beings left in a world dominated by man. Versed in ancient fairy tales and the language of plants, Luna struggles to control her powers over fire. When her mentor dies in Luna’s arms, she is forced into a centuries-long struggle against the gravest enemy of all Fae-kind—the very enemy that left her orphaned. In order to save her people, Luna must rewrite their history by entering a door in the mountain and passing back through time. But when the lives of those she loves come under threat, her rage destroys a forest, and everything in it. Now called The Char Witch, she is cursed to live alone, her name and the name of her people forgotten.
Until she hears a knock upon her long-sealed door.
Interwoven with elements of Hansel and Gretel and The Seven Ravens, Char is the stand alone sequel to Opal, and second in the Fae of Fire and Stone trilogy.
I wait on the dusky border between days, watching the shadow of a little house, its uneven roof speared through with a narrow chimney—even the visage of a plume of smoke wavers across the spill of leaves, though there be no such house on God’s earth. I hear the rattle of loose shutters and the delicate clink of bone latches tapping against invisible glass. While I witness such horror, a mysterious white dove circles past, marking me with its black eye.
Few claim to have seen her, the darkling passing between blackened elms, a bundle of bones aglow in her arms. Others say to see her is to see death itself. Legends abound about the black witch and her long-avoided patch of wood, where it oft rains ash and the wind harbors the screams of those claimed by her wrathful wildfires. The Char Witch, they call her; she who collects human bone for timber, building her dwelling between realms.
But what of the lone dove? Is this her devilish familiar or the shape she takes by magic? And if the witch doth live, is that not evidence of those other soulless human-imposters that haunt our woods?
Luna crumpled the bit of dry parchment, tossing it to the begging wraiths of flame in her hearth. Had she not been mute for almost a decade, she might have laughed. And to think she’d wasted half the morning trying to secure that bit of rot. It had blown against her window in the night’s storm, one tip peeping through a crack in the casing, and she’d only just managed to work it through to the interior. It was her first news of the outside world after nine long years in the little house of wood and bone and splintered memories. She wondered now about the cowardly men left roaming her woods. At least they couldn’t claim her name or the name of her kind, the Fae. But to call her a witch, the Char Witch. Luna’s hands trembled as she pressed them to her eyes.
She knelt and took up her bowl, cradling it in her lap while she prayed until the shadows rearranged themselves in the little room. She shifted on her knees, their skin thickened by the rough surface of a floor that was little more than a petrified flow of black basalt, time solidified in hardened furrows beneath her. A white bird came to nestle in her matted hair, the whisper of its folding wings a bellows to the silence.
Though she cultivated quiet with plugs of moss in every chink between the blistered, blackened logs, Luna was tormented still by the sounds of the season, the world around her dying. Outside, the wind picked up and the wasted leaves atop her roof rattled and cursed, while the bones that framed the walls creaked around her, growing arthritic in the sudden chill. Luna gritted her teeth against the memories they invoked, closing her eyes as she whispered over the bowl. She stirred the mash of herbs and embers with a dark finger, and the charred plant remains wafted up in a wail of smoke. Luna inhaled deeply, drawing the spirit of each herb into her sunken chest.
There was valerian root, grown along the western window ledge, to forget; a hop cone from the vine that climbed the north wall, to lull the mind; boneset, carried in from the south glen by her sole companion, the faithful dove, for forgiveness; and deadly belladonna, cultivated in a deep crack along the chimney to the east, a poison as a means to an end—to freedom at long last. But as Luna looked to these four directions, she became distracted by the sudden absence of the bird. The dove had gone, left through the cooling chimney as it often did, the world beyond calling it away.
Luna lowered her eyes to the deadly contents of her bowl, resigned to this last, solitary act, but as she lifted it, a twig snapped and the leaves outside whispered of little feet. Deer, she told herself. But a soft whine said otherwise. It was a voice, she realized, the bowl parting from her lips. One high plea was hushed by another while the underbrush rustled and gasped; a moment later there came a thump upon her door.
Luna went rigid as the bowl fell. She struggled to remember if she’d sampled the belladonna when the sound came again, sharp and purposeful. Was she hallucinating already? She stumbled up as the dove dropped in from the chimney, loosing a snow of white feathers as it fluttered up to the rafters. Luna sucked the ash from her fingertip as she strode to the deadwood door, coming to life with another blow. She glanced back at the upturned bowl and the cinders scattered across the dark floor; her death undone.
The old woman’s words whispered through Luna’s memories, that long ago blessing meant to soften a hateful curse; the last words Luna had heard. There shall be a door in that forgotten house, and her isolation broken by a knock upon it. Luna had long thought her old friend dead, and the door sealed against her fate. She glanced up at the dove, cooing urgently from the shadows in the rafters, but it quieted when her gaze touched it, tucking its head beneath a wing. Luna’s threadbare dress lifted from her boney feet as she stood on her toes, straining to peer through the glass eye set high in the door.
Every knot in the aspen logs blinked as she blinked, and the two children on her threshold stumbled back in alarm, the smaller one’s hood falling back from a head of dark, closely shorn hair. Despite the lack of hair, the soft brow and delicate chin gave her away as a girl. She blinked up at the roving eye in the door as it settled on her, its dark center staring pointedly at her all black, Fae eyes.
On the other side of the eye, Luna swallowed, then coughed around the years of silence, clearing the mute from her throat. “Who are you?” she croaked.
The taller child, a half-grown boy by the sound of his newly changed voice, stared bravely up into the single eye. “My name is Hassun, and this is my sister, Grita.” The girl child paled visibly at the sound of her own name, and Luna understood. Like her own, it had long been secret.
“Your names mean nothing to me. How did you find my house?” It was Luna’s distinct punishment that she should live alone, her house never to be found by any sentient soul but those who had uttered the curse. And she couldn’t imagine these children had any ties to those three, bitter souls.
“We followed a white bird,” the boy answered with a touch of awe. “I don’t even know where we are.” His dark eyes shone with tears of frustration as Luna took in their shabby appearance. Their tattered clothes were ill-suited for the chill weather, a few furs wrapped around their feet and draped raggedly over their heads and shoulders, creating make-shift boots and hoods. They must stink like rotten meat, Luna thought with a scowl as she dropped down to her heels, leaving the glass eye to roll skyward. She would have to prepare a bath and scrub them well before working out a suitable dinner.
She glared up at the bird, wondering about the flinty spark in its eyes, before working at the stiff latch. Wedged into the wood slats were the bones of a forearm; Luna slid a bit of rib through the gap between them and the door snapped as it sagged on its hinges. She studied the latch for a long moment, amazed that it worked at all, and wondered at the absurdity of allowing children into her vile house. The only innocents that belonged here were those souls that claimed the delicate bones lining her windows, the slender femurs and miniscule knuckles of little ones she’d murdered, though never known.
At last Luna pulled at the twisted door handle, bits of blackened bark flecking her hand as daylight pried through the cracks in the frame. She licked the bitter belladonna from her lips and wondered if she’d survive this moment, as the entire lost world flooded through her long-sealed door.
Kristina Wojtaszek grew up as a woodland sprite and mermaid, playing around the shores of Lake Michigan. At any given time she could be found with live snakes tangled in her hair and worn out shoes filled with sand. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management as an excuse to spend her days lost in the woods with a book in hand. Now a mother of two little tricksters and their menagerie of small beasts, she continues to conjure bits of fantasy during the rare spell of silence. Her fairy tales, ghost stories, poems and YA fiction have been published by World Weaver Press, Far Off Places and Sucker Literary Magazine. Follow her @KristinaWojtasz or on her blog, Twice Upon a Time.
Praise for Char:
"The twists and turns in Wojtaszek’s newest novella are sudden, jarring, and occasionally heartbreaking, and Luna’s struggles with controlling her power make it clear that possessing magic doesn’t mean an easy — or even safe! — life... I will probably read anything by Kristina Wojtaszek that I can find, after discovering these fantastic books."
—Alia Eisele, Moonlight Gleams Reviews
"Char was a beautiful book that’ll have my mind reeling for a long time. It’s a faery tale you can taste and smell. Give this book a try if you like faeries or are a lover of nature; I promise you won’t be disappointed!"
--Mariella Hunt, author of Dissonance
"A must read for lovers of fairy tales and fantasy."
—Kate Wolford, Editor and Publisher, Enchanted Conversation
Praise for Opal:
“A fairy tale within a fairy tale within a fairy tale—the narratives fit together like interlocking pieces of a puzzle, beautifully told.”
— Zachary Petit, Editor, Writer’s Digest
“Twists and turns and surprises that kept me up well into the night. Fantasy and fairy tale lovers will eat this up and be left wanting more!”
— Kate Wolford, Editor and Publisher, Enchanted Conversation
“Lyrical, beautiful, and haunting … OPAL is truly a hidden gem. Wojtaszek [is] a talented new author and one well worth watching.”
— YA Fantastic Book Review
“Such a treat to read!”
— Bibliophilic Book Blog
“Fans of fairy tale retellings and stories involving Faeries will fall in love with Opal.”
— Chapter by Chapter