Mercedes Lackey's magical Elemental Masters series recasts familiar fairy tales in a richly-imagined alternate Victorian world
Rosamund is an Earth Master in the Schwarzwald, the ancient Black Forest of Germany. Since the age of ten, she has lived with her teacher, the Hunt Master and Earth Magician of the Schwarzwald Foresters, a man she calls “Papa.” Her adoptive Papa rescued her after her original Earth Master teacher, an old woman who lived alone in a small cottage in the forest, was brutally murdered by werewolves. Rosa herself barely escaped, and this terrifying incident molded the course of her future.
For like her fellow Earth Masters of the Schwarzwald Lodge, Rosa is not a healer. Instead, her talents lead her on the more violent path of protection and defense— “cleansing” the Earth and protecting its gentle fae creatures from those evil beings who seek to do them harm.
And so Rosa becomes the first woman Hunt Master and the scourge of evil creatures, with a deadly specialty in werewolves and all shapeshifters.
While visiting with a Fire Master—a friend of her mentor from the Schwarzwald Lodge— Rosa meets a pair of Elemental Magicians from Hungary who have come looking for help. They suspect that there is a dark power responsible for a string of murders happening in the remote countryside of Transylvania, but they have no proof. Rosa agrees to help them, but there is a catch: one of the two men asking for aid is a hereditary werewolf.
Rosa has been taught that there are three kinds of werewolves. There are those, like the one that had murdered her teacher, who transform themselves by use of dark magic, and also those who have been infected by the bite of these magical werewolves—these poor victims have no control over their transformative powers. Yet, there is a third kind: those who have been born with the ability to transform at will. Some insist that certain of these hereditary werewolves are benign. But Rosa has never encountered a benign werewolf!
Can she trust this Hungarian werewolf? Or is the Hunter destined to become the Hunted?
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Mercedes Lackey is a full-time writer and has published numerous novels and works of short fiction, including the best-selling Heralds of Valdemar series. She is also a professional lyricist and a licensed wild bird rehabilitator. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband, artist Larry Dixon, and their flock of parrots. She can be found at mercedeslackey.com or on Twitter at @mercedeslackey.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
available from DAW Books:
ARROWS OF THE QUEEN
WINDS OF FATE
WINDS OF CHANGE
WINDS OF FURY
CLOSER TO HOME*
BY THE SWORD
TAKE A THIEF
SWORD OF ICE
SUN IN GLORY
CHANGING THE WORLD
FINDING THE WAY
UNDER THE VALE
Written with LARRY DIXON:
THE BLACK GRYPHON
THE WHITE GRYPHON
THE SILVER GRYPHON
THE BLACK SWAN
THE SERPENT’S SHADOW
THE GATES OF SLEEP
PHOENIX AND ASHES
THE WIZARD OF LONDON
RESERVED FOR THE CAT
HOME FROM THE SEA
*Coming soon from DAW Books
And don’t miss THE VALDEMAR COMPANION
edited by John Helfers and Denise Little
DAW TRADEMARK REGISTERED
U.S. PAT. AND TM. OFF. AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES
HECHO EN U.S.A.
MUTTI and Vati were talking again. It wasn’t quite arguing, and Rosa pretended that she couldn’t hear it. Children were not supposed to hear when grownups were talking about them.
It wasn’t exactly about her, anyway. It was about the fact that they were living in a cottage in the little village of Holzdorf in the Schwarzwald instead of in Wuppertal, as Mutti wanted. The reason, of course, was Rosa. Living in the city had nearly killed her; she had felt poisoned all the time, and was sick all the time, and it hadn’t been until Onkel Hans and Tante Bertha had come to the house and told them about the magic that Mutti and Vati had understood that being in a city was just not going to be possible for Rosa until she was much older, at the very least. Maybe not ever.
Mutti and Vati had only a little of the magic, but they knew it was real, and Vati hadn’t sent his brother and sister-in-law away with taunts of madness. But Earth Magic had never been in their families before; it had been two unbroken lines of Fire Mages until Rosa was born. A Fire Mage had no problem with living in a city. Some even found it pleasant.
But for an Earth Mage, well . . . no wonder Rosa had always felt as if she was being poisoned. She was being poisoned. All of the industries spewing filth into the air, the soil and the water, all of the smokes and the soots, all of the nastiness caused by too many people living too closely together—all that made the Earth sick, and that made her sick. So living in Wuppertal was no longer an option, unless they wanted to send Rosa away alone—and that plan had made Mutti even more unhappy than the prospect of leaving the city.
“It’s so lonely here,” Mutti said plaintively.
Rosa knew what Vati was thinking, that it would be less lonely if Mutti just tried a little harder to fit herself into village life. Her city clothing alone set her apart, and it wasn’t as if Tante Bertha had not supplied her with the right costume and more than enough fabric to make more. Rosa thought that the black skirt and black laced jacket, together with the beautifully embroidered blouse and apron and shawl, looked wonderful on Mutti, but she would not part with her stiffly corseted, voluminous, and highly impractical gowns.
And it was not as if the women of the village would not have welcomed her! They felt sorry for the “junge Frau” who always looked so shy and sad. They were eager to share recipes and needlework patterns and gossip. They were always happy to see Rosa, and if she hadn’t by nature had a modest appetite, she would have been as round as a Christmas goose from all the good things they tried to coax her to eat. Everyone here knew of magic, even if they didn’t have any themselves, and they sympathized with the city folk who had exiled themselves here in order that their daughter might thrive and learn.
“Liebchen, you must try harder,” said her Vati, wearily. He had fitted himself right into the life of the village almost as soon as they had arrived. Now he could not have been told from one of the locals until he opened his mouth, wearing his black suit, the long coat with red lapels and brass buttons, and his little round black hat. The village had lacked a proper schoolmaster; the local priest, a very old man, had served double duty in that regard for decades, and he was more than happy to give over the position to Vati.
And oh, yes . . . religion. That was another thing that made Mutti unhappy. The village was Catholic, mostly, and she was staunch Lutheran. Not that such a designation made any difference to the village. How could it, when there were Elemental Masters in their forest? Even the priest, gentle old man that he was, would have happily served Holy Communion to Mutti, as he did to Vati, without so much as a hint that she should convert, even though his bishop would probably have died of a fit if he found out. “We are all Children of the Good God,” he would say. “The bad days that Master Luther railed about are over. We should accept each other in God’s Peace and make no fuss about names and credos.”
Well, Rosa had faith in her father. Eventually he would wear Mutti down, as he always did. One day she would put on the pretty black dress and hat bedecked with fat pompoms and go to visit the neighbors. One day she would meet the gentle priest and discover he was not a baby-eating ogre.
“Rosa!” Mutti called from the kitchen. “It is time to visit Grossmutter Helga!”
That was what Rosa had been waiting—a bit impatiently—for. “Grossmutter Helga” was not really her grandmother. Both of her real grandmothers had lived back in the city, and they were gone now. “Grossmutter Helga” was a very learned and very powerful Earth Master who was teaching Rosa her magic, because one day Rosa was expected to be just as learned and powerful—although no one knew yet what direction her magic might take.
Rosa was never happier than when she was sitting beside the old woman, listening so hard her face would ache from it afterward. And sometimes—sometimes she was allowed to do a very little magic herself. Or try. Sometimes it didn’t work. She didn’t seem to be very good at coaxing things to grow under most circumstances, or at healing. Grossmutter said that this was all right, that not every Earth Master was adept at nurturing.
And when Rosa was tired, Grossmutter would make her tea and give her a little meal and tell her stories. Many of the stories were about the Bruderschaft der Förster, the Brotherhood of the Foresters, the arcane guardians of the Schwarzwald; there were many dark and dangerous things that lived here, and the paths through the shadowy trees could be perilous. Rosa was very glad, listening to those tales, that the Brotherhood stood guard.
As Rosa entered the warm and fragrant kitchen, Vati ruffled her hair and left for the schoolhouse. The kitchen—indeed, the entire cottage—was the one thing that Mutti did like about their new life. Living space in the city was cramped, and Rosa remembered Vati always complaining about how expensive it was. Here, thanks to Vati’s schoolmaster job, the spacious cottage cost them nothing. It had three rooms below, and the loft where Rosa slept above. The kitchen had a red-tiled floor, a spacious hearth with an oven built into it for baking, a sink, cupboards that held all manner of good things, a sturdy wooden table in the center, and real glass windows—it was ever so much nicer than the tiny little kitchen in their city flat. They had a real parlor and a bedroom for Mutti and Vati as well, where in the city flat they’d had to hide their bed behind a curtain, and Rosa had slept in a cupboard bed.
“I have your basket for Grossmutter,” said Mutti, folding the top of the napkin that lined the basket over the contents. “Some lovely apple cakes, a nice pat of butter, and that soft cheese she likes so much.” Mutti always sent Rosa with a basket to Grossmutter, as if Grossmutter needed someone else to do her cooking for her, although Rosa knew very well that Grossmutter was as good a cook, or better, than Mutti. But she was too polite to say anything, and Grossmutter always accepted the contents of the basket with grave thanks, so Rosa supposed that this was one of the many things children were supposed to be silent about.
Then Mutti tied Rosa’s pride and joy about her neck—a beautiful bright red cape with a matching hood. Rosa always felt like a princess in this cape, which was a miniature copy of the riding capes that fine ladies wore when they went hunting. Mutti had copied the pattern from an illustrated magazine that Vati had brought from the city for her, and Grossmutter had sewed it for her.
“Now go and take your lessons with Grossmutter, and don’t dawdle on the way,” Mutti cautioned.
“I won’t Mutti,” Rosa promised.
“And don’t speak to strangers.”
“I won’t, Mutti,” she promised again, although she could not imagine what strangers she could possibly meet on the path to Grossmutter’s cottage. It wasn’t a common route for travelers or people out to see the sights of the Schwarzwald. But Mutti had said the same back in the city every time Rosa went out to play on the doorstep, so she supposed it must be habit from that time.
“And if you are kept too late, you may stay with Grossmutter,” Mutti concluded, albeit reluctantly. “I don’t want you wandering in the forest at sundown. There are wolves. And bears.”
Rosa stifled a sigh. Of course there were wolves and bears. Everyone knew that. That was why there was a wolf or a bear on practically every piece of Schwarzwald carving. And stags, but her mother never warned her to beware of stags, even though Grossmutter had told her that they could be just as dangerous as a bear. “Yes, Mutti,” she said dutifully.
“Now off you go.”
Finally Rosa was free to scamper out the door, through the vegetable garden that was Vati’s pride, and out the gate to the path that led to Grossmutter’s house.
The first part of her journey was out of the village, and through all of the village fields. She always ran through this part; the farm fields and small pastures held very little interest for her. The land had been tamed, controlled, and confined. Everything was neat, everything was regimented. She always felt a little stifled when in the village or on the farmlands. It was nothing like as bad as it had been when she’d lived in the city, but . . . well, it was akin to being forced to wear your Sunday Best all the time. You couldn’t really be yourself. The land wasn’t itself.
She was always glad when she got out of the farmlands and into the water meadow. While the meadow and its pond weren’t exactly wild, not like the forest, they were still much freer than the farmed land. Nothing grew in the meadow, or in the pond, that was deliberately planted. The village ducks and geese grazed here, and the village goats, but that was about the extent of the hand of man. She slowed to a fast walk as soon as the path crossed the boundary of the meadow.
Here was where she finally saw the first of the Elementals—other than brownies—that lived around the village. The village was full of brownies, of course, even if no one but Rosa and her parents were aware of them. It was a wholesome, earthy place, and brownies were the Elementals not only of Earth, but of hearth and home. Virtually every household in the village had at least one brownie seeing to it that all was well in the house, and that any accidents were small ones. Rosa’s household had three, because of Rosa’s magic.
But here in the water meadow was where she started to see the wild ones. There was a little faun that she thought lived here. Not like the ones in the woods, who were older, somehow more goatlike, and were always looking at her slyly out of their strange eyes. This was a very little fellow, shy, and often found napping in the sun. There was a tree-girl here as well, though she held herself aloof from the faun. There were entire swarms of the sorts of little creatures that were in picture books, little grotesques with fat bodies and spindly legs, or made with parts of ordinary animals, birds and insects. She didn’t have names for them and neither did Grossmutter, who just called them “alvar.” No matter how odd they looked, they were playful and friendly, and Rosa wished she had lived here when she was younger, because she could have run down here to play with them.
She was not free to do so today, though, so she waved at the ones she saw and plunged into the forest. “Plunged” was the right word; the Schwarzwald was a very old forest, and once you got onto the paths within it, you found yourself in a dark and mysterious place. Tree trunks towered all around, like pillars holding up a green ceiling high, high above. Here and there shafts of sunlight pierced the gloom. The forest floor was thick with old leaves and needles, soft with moss, rippling with roots. And normally, it felt welcoming to Rosa. But today . . .
Well, today the forest felt . . . uneasy. Not so much near the village, but the deeper she got into it, the more it felt as if the forest was holding its breath, and that many of the animals and creatures that dwelled here were in hiding from . . . something.
Now, Rosa had had that same feeling in here before, now and again. Nothing had ever come of it, but when she asked Grossmutter about it, the elder magician had pulled a long face. “There are dark tales in the forest,” she had said. “And most of them are true. Hurry your steps, and do not tarry when the trees hold their breath and the fauns hide in their caves. And never come there after dark until you are older and much more powerful.” That seemed like good advice to Rosa . . . and she was heeding it now. Instead of sauntering along, stopping to look at something interesting now and again, collecting bird feathers and the mushrooms Grossmutter had taught her were safe, she sped up, gathering her little cloak about her, for suddenly the shadows beneath the trees seemed cold.
She was halfway to Grossmutter’s cottage when she rounded a twist in the path, and was stopped dead in her tracks by the sight of a man she did not know ahead of her.
Now, the forest was very famous. And her village was well known for wood carving. Strangers were known to trek through the forest for pleasure, especially in the summer, although this was the first time that Rosa had encountered a man she didn’t recognize inside the forest and not in the village, and she couldn’t imagine how he had come to be on this path.
But there was something about this man she did not like, and she could not have said why.
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